Posted on September 6, 2004
McGreevey's Lethal Legacy
Cloning law is his true scandal
New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey will probably be remembered almost entirely for the homosexual extramarital affair that was ostensibly the cause of his announced resignation. That's too bad, because the whole truth about him is far worse than that. If history were just -- which it isn't always -- then the scandal for which McGreevey will best be known has nothing to do with his sexual habits, or with accusations of corruption and cronyism. His greatest shame, ironically enough, would be an action he took while legally performing his role as governor.
On January 4th of this year, McGreevey signed into law a bill that he and the New Jersey legislature flagrantly mischaracterized as a "ban" on human cloning. In fact, it legalized the cloning of human embryos, but made it illegal for a cloned human being to be born. Those who have followed the cloning debate will recognize this false distinction between "therapeutic cloning" and "reproductive cloning." (Cloning is by definition a reproductive process, therefore there is no subcategory that can be put in opposition to "reproductive cloning.")
The new law takes this deception even further, though, in that it does not forbid a cloned embryo from being implanted in a woman's womb. In other words, a cloned human embryo can be implanted in the womb if, and only if, the pregnancy is to end in an abortion. Researchers could pay women to carry cloned embryos into the fetal stage, then abort the pregnancies and use the dead fetal clones for research.
That probably sounds like a creative extrapolation. Surely, neither the state legislature nor Governor McGreevey intended to permit the farming of the human unborn for spare parts, right? Then why does Subsection 2.c. of the bill say, "embryonic or cadaveric fetal tissue may be donated for research purposes in accordance with the provisions of subsection b. of this section or other applicable State or federal law"? [emphasis added] Clearly, the ghastly potential consequences of this law are not unintentional.
That same subsection says, "A person shall not knowingly, for valuable consideration, purchase or sell, or otherwise transfer or obtain, or promote the sale or transfer of, embryonic or cadaveric fetal tissue for research purposes pursuant to this act." However, it goes on to say that the term "valuable consideration" does not include "reasonable payment for the removal, processing, disposal, preservation, quality control, storage, transplantation, or implantation of embryonic or cadaveric fetal tissue."
This is the same dodge that fetal organ wholesalers Opening Lines and the Anatomic Gift Foundation used when their operations were uncovered by an anti-abortion group called Life Dynamics back in 1999. The wholesalers circumvented laws against selling human body parts by claiming that the parts were "donated" to them by the clinics, and that they then "donated" those same organs to researchers. The wholesalers merely paid a "site fee" to the clinics, for occupation of the rooms in which the dissections took place, and then charged the researchers for delivery of the "donated" organs.
Likewise, the New Jersey law allows "reasonable payment" to be made for services closely related to the transfer of embryonic and fetal tissue, just as long as it is not characterized as payment for those tissues themselves. Moreover, it demands proof that the participants in a transaction "knowingly" broke this rule. As long as they agree to say that the payments are not for the tissues themselves, and that they think the amounts paid are "reasonable" for the services rendered, there can be no case made against them.
So how can the New Jersey government possibly pass this off as a "ban" on cloning? Easy. All they have to do is point to the first clause in Section 3, which says, "A person who knowingly engages or assists, directly or indirectly, in the cloning of a human being is guilty of a crime of the first degree."
... Oh, but wait a minute. The following clause attempts to explain this "ban" in greater detail: "As used in this section, 'cloning of a human being' means the replication of a human individual by cultivating a cell with genetic material through the egg, embryo, fetal and newborn stages of a new human individual."
If that's not a deliberate obfuscation of the true definition of a human being, then it's as recklessly written as any legal clause in American history. For starters, it treats an unfertilized egg as if it were an organism, just as an embryo, fetus and newborn are. The language here is not even grammatically consistent, grouping the nouns "egg" and "embryo" with the adjective "fetal." Second, it identifies all of these as "stages of a new human individual," but defines a "human individual" as something other than a "human being." Finally, it goes even farther than Roe v. Wade does in denying the humanity of young human beings, by declaring that a "human being" is something that has already gone "through" the newborn stage.
The word "newborn" is only objectively defined at its earliest moment, meaning since birth. There is no clear demarcation at the other end. How long might a person remain a newborn? A month? A year? Until that person is big enough to wear clothes out of the toddlers' section? In any case, the state of New Jersey has declared that a human clone can legally be killed for some duration after its birth.
This may not sound like a realistic concern, since it's obviously illegal to kill somebody who's been born. Yet that was already true when President Bush signed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002. When a child is born, not only is there no argument over whether it's a person, but it's even a U.S. citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment. Nevertheless, many babies who had survived abortion attempts were being killed or left to die of neglect, with no legal consequence. The undeniable illegality of it was ignored because ... well, ... the mothers wanted the babies dead, so what's the big deal?
For this reason, a new federal law was needed to impress upon state and local authorities that those killings were unacceptable. The Born Alive law tries to proscribe infanticide by requiring that, "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the words 'person', 'human being', 'child', and 'individual', shall include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development."
Ordinarily, judges will rule that a federal law supersedes any conflicting state law, but it's not hard to imagine an exception being made in this case, especially since the Supreme Court could use its own precedent to supersede the federal law. The majority opinion in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey abortion ruling made the bizarre assertion that, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." What if New Jersey's concept of existence is that it doesn't start for clones until after the newborn stage, and until that point a clone is really just the tissue of the person whose DNA was transplanted into the egg? Considering the courts' history on right-to-life issues, it is difficult to be optimistic about the outcome.
One might try to excuse McGreevey by arguing that he was only being gullible and reckless by signing this law, but that doesn't stand to reason. The governor was warned about the inhumanity of the bill in a letter from four members of the President's Council on Bioethics, and again by Wesley Smith in a Weekly Standard article, and he signed it anyway.
That's the real scandal, and there's no mitigating it. McGreevey's wife can't make it any less horrifying by standing at his side and smiling through his explanation of it. McGreevey can't win any sympathy by feigning victimization, and calling himself a Frankensteinian-American. All he can do is hope that this law never becomes the focus of his administration. It's no wonder, then, that he publicizes his lesser misdeeds so blithely.
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