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The slippery slope to reproductive cloning

By David van Gend - posted Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Cloning human embryos for research will perfect the technique needed for cloning babies and for growing cloned fetuses for their organs.

Both of these unthinkable acts are being promoted in major journals, and while they will remain illegal in Australia for the time being, they will no longer remain impossible, since the Senate chose to take the first step in human cloning.

The phenomenon of a critical “first step” that sets us on a path to a previously unthinkable state of affairs is a commonplace in human history.


This phenomenon - the “slippery slope” - is described by Robert Manne as “a slow and subtle transformation of ethical sensibility. Over time we become blind to how we once thought and what we once valued. We become accustomed or attracted to thoughts we would once have found unthinkable.”

In four short years, Senator Kay Patterson has “become accustomed or attracted to thoughts” of therapeutic cloning, which in 2002 she found unthinkable.

“I believe strongly that it is wrong to create human embryos solely for research”, she told Parliament in 2002 (PDF 76KB). “It is not morally permissible to develop an embryo with the intent of truncating it at an early stage for the benefit of another human being”. The Parliament agreed with her ethical judgment, unanimously passing the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act 2002.

Yet in 2006, it was Senator Patterson who tabled the Prohibition of Human Reproductive Cloning Bill, which permits the creation of cloned human embryos solely for research.

This unaccountable change in ethical sensibility is the slippery slope in action.

Unaccountable, since nothing can change in the ethics of “creating in order to destroy”, nothing has changed in the fraud-ridden speculative science of human cloning, and valid research on public opinion (PDF 148KB) still shows solid majority opposition to creating cloned embryos for research.


Senator Patterson still considers “reproductive” cloning - the bringing of cloned embryos to birth - unthinkable, and her Bill will imprison anybody who lets a cloned embryo continue living beyond 14-days-of-age. The use of legislation to permit the wrongful creation and compel the wrongful killing of a human embryo does not trouble her moral sensibility. But she is indignant at any suggestion that a Bill that permits “therapeutic” cloning is preparing the way for “reproductive” cloning.

Yet her Bill is exactly what is required by those already further down the slippery slope, who do not find “reproductive” cloning unthinkable at all, and who need legislative approval to perfect the technique.

Only last month in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Melbourne academic Daniel Elsner defends cloning right through to birth: “People wishing to reproduce by cloning should be able to do, provided that there is no reasonable alternative.”

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About the Author

Dr David van Gend is a Toowoomba GP and Queensland secretary for the World Federation of Doctors who Respect Human Life.

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