Newspeak Comes to the Brave New World

by The Center for Bioethics and Culture on May 7, 2003

Council Commentary reprinted with permission from the Council for Biotechnology and Policy in Washington DC

by Nigel M. de S. Cameron

High-Level Deceit

Anyone who has been following the cloning debate in Washington, D.C., will not be surprised that those who favor cloning human embryos for experiments have now come up with their Senate bill (S. 303) designed to spoil the Brownback-Landrieu cloning prohibition act. What is surprising is its breathtaking dishonesty, which undermines our capacity to exercise democratic control over the most dangerous technology of all time.

Remember “therapeutic cloning”? That was the term used by pro-cloners to describe cloning intended for experiments and, if it works, to produce medications for the sick. They were eager to distinguish it from “reproductive cloning”-and professed horror at the idea of live-born cloned babies. This therapeutic-reproductive distinction was always a cheat, since cloning is always “reproductive” (and, of course, any “therapeutic” significance would not be for the cloned embryo!). The question is not what “kind” of cloning you are doing, but what you are using the cloned embryo for: experiments or implantation.

But now we have moved on. The opinion polls have shown such consistent good sense on the part of the public that the backers of cloning have had to try again. “Therapeutic cloning” has not convinced us that cloning may be good. They have decided to get rid of “cloning” altogether. Yet since they want to clone human embryos-hundreds of millions of them-they have to do this by playing with words.

So S. 303 is built on high-level deceit, as bald-faced as it is corrupting of the democratic process. The bill begins with two “definitions.” These “definitions” are not designed, as is usually the case, to clarify exactly how terms that have more than one meaning will be used in the bill that follows. They are intended to make up one misleading term, and to give a completely new meaning to another. This is a crime against language, free speech, and democracy.

The new misleading term is unfertilized blastocyst to describe the cloned embryo. Blastocyst is just a scientific word for an early human embryo. The use of unfertilized implies that this “thing” is not what it truly is-a human embryo like any other human embryo. Of course, the cloned embryo is not fertilized in the traditional manner; cloning does not involve a sperm penetrating an egg. But the embryo is no more “unfertilized” than an embryo that results from twinning (by splitting off from the one that was). Like a twinned embryo, the “cloned embryo” is copied from another member of the species that was fertilized in the usual way. The idea is to keep talking about the cloned embryo as an “egg” (as the S. 303 promotional materials do) instead of an embryo.

The basic idea is to distract attention from the fact that a cloned embryo is just like any other embryo once it has been cloned, whether it is a sheep embryo or a human embryo. That prepares the way for the greatest distortion, which comes in a definition of human cloning to mean implantation.

The dishonesty of this “definition” is underlined by the fact that, in November 2001, Advanced Cell Technology, one of the most prominent biotech companies, announced with a huge fanfare that it had succeeded in the first human cloning-of an embryo.

The supporters of unethical biotech have chosen to resort to dishonest language in their attempt to persuade the American people to let them do what the American people do not want-what the President demanded in the State of the Union be outlawed, and what the House has voted overwhelmingly to ban. We must hope that those members of the Senate not yet compromised by sponsorship of this flawed and disingenuous bill will-whatever their view of cloning-have the courage to oppose such a blatant attempt to distort the truth. Huxley’s Brave New World, meet 1984’s “newspeak.”

Nigel M. de S. Cameron is executive chairman of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and director of the Council for Biotechnology Policy. To read and sign the Council’s new Manifesto on Biotechnology and Human Dignity, click here.?

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