Science prevails

May 03, 2002

MAKE NO MISTAKE: Politics and religion, in very different ways, form the very basis for American culture and society. They help shape and guide national character and aid in making important decisions.

But as tools for discerning the truth about matters of human potential and advancement, they often fall short. And that's where science comes in. Throughout the course of human history, there have been moments when science - with its logical, reasoned methods - has had to trump politics and religion in order for truth and common sense to prevail.

So it's encouraging to see Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah - whose political and religious bent would suggest outright opposition to cloning research - come out in favor of cloning for medical purposes.

Mr. Hatch, a staunch opponent of abortion, made it clear that he still holds his deep political and religious beliefs about the sanctity of unborn life.

But the scientific possibilities offered by cloning research, the potential for groundbreaking medical, outweighed his other concerns.

Mr. Hatch signed onto a Senate bill that would allow cloning for stem cell research - cloning that could be used only for medical research. His support was won over in part by a provision that would also ban all human reproductive cloning.

A less sensible House bill (supported by the White House) would ban all human cloning, no matter the purpose. It finds support among those who believe any tampering with life is wrong, and has gained momentum in anti-abortion quarters because research cloning uses stem cells from aborted fetuses.

But if the House bill passes, many important scientific questions about cloning will be left unanswered - and humanity will likely be the worse for it. Stem cell cloning, if fully explored, could provide relief for millions who suffer debilitating diseases. It could produce organs for those who need them, treatments for those who have none.

Moreover, aggressive scientific inquiry into cloning's possibilities would help sort out the political, religious and ethical questions surrounding the issue. It would be easier to determine the right and wrong of it once science fully explores its parameters and its promise.

The importance of that exploration could have important historical significance. Imagine, for example, how different life would be if politics and religion had prevented (as they once attempted) Galileo from determining that the planets, sun and stars did not revolve around the Earth. Think of what would not have been achieved had politics and religion stopped the scientific and education communities from affirming the biological links between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.

Mr. Hatch showed great vision for humanity by embracing the scientific community's hope for cloning. Others who share his political and religious views would do well to follow suit.

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