Charles Krauthammer is a Uruguayan-born, McGill University-educated medical doctor cum Washington D.C.-based political pundit whose work appears regularly in the American press. An ethnic Jew (it is unknown whether he practices) and confined to a wheelchair, he is a moderate conservative who has reservations about embryonic stem cell research. However, in the April 29 issue of The New Republic, he laid out the secular case against so-called therapeutic cloning.

Krauthammer recognizes that cloning is itself a promise and a problem. He quickly dispatches dealing with reproductive human cloning by saying that it is “universally abhorred.” That is not quite true, but no government is seriously considering openly permitting it (although there are loopholes), so there is little debate on the topic. But therapeutic – or what Krauthammer more truthfully insists on calling research cloning – is another story. That dedifferentiated cell development – a copy of another person – is possible presents a wide range of medical and scientific possibilities. That’s the promise. For the problem, Krauthammer takes more than three magazine pages to outline.

In short, the question is: should the cells be developed into the embryonic stage and then mined for parts, such as stem cells? As Krauthammer notes, there are two reasons for doing this: research and cure.

Before getting to the four main reasons for opposing research cloning, he makes a number of minor arguments. For instance, he says that one of the principal arguments in favour of such cloning is “the conquest of rejection.” But Krauthammer says that this claim may not be true since there is evidence that cloned tissue in lab animals may be rejected anyway. Furthermore, there have been great advances in combating tissue rejection. Another “minor” argument (really, not that minor, but it was not one of Krauthammer’s major points) is that research cloning will open the door to reproductive cloning. Any law that permits the former and not the latter “would then make it a crime not to destroy that fetus,” created for research purposes, if it were (somehow) implanted into a woman. That is, Krauthammer says, “an obvious moral absurdity.” Nonetheless, the essayist notes that there are four central objections against research cloning in and of itself.

1) Intrinsic worth. Discarding the idea that life begins at conception (Krauthammer says such an argument is unprovable and he personally does not believe personhood or ensoulment begins/occurs at this time) the author says that while the embryo is not entitled to inviolability, it is entitled to something. Because there is an enormous chasm between inviolability on the one hand and “thingness” of no value whatsoever on the other, the next three objections are morally relevant.

2) The brave new world factor. Whatever knowledge – as opposed to cure – comes from research cloning, the result “gives man too much power for evil.” Krauthammer says a human being is “too complicated to create or even fully understand, but understandable enough to command and perhaps even control.” This sounds much like nuclear physics. Examining the panoply of possibilities (animal-human hybrids, partly developed human bodies for use for parts) Krauthammer notes, “We have no idea what grotesque results might come from … clonal experiments.”

3) The slippery slope. Quite simply, once you begin experimenting upon the human embryo in its first days, it becomes easier to experiment upon human beings at other stages in life. If science yields knowledge or cures at seven days, Krauthammer says, researchers will plead, “Give me just a few more weeks to work with it and I could do wonders.” Society will move from farming embryos to mining fetuses for parts. Krauthammer says if it could be guaranteed that the seven-day line would never be crossed, this argument could be dismissed because this concern is not a question of principle, but one of prudence.

4) Manufacture. Krauthammer says that in research cloning, “the embryo is created with the explicit intention of its eventual destruction.” This will lead to the manufacturing of cloned human embryos, resulting in the routinization, commercialization and commodification of the embryo. “Research cloning,” he says, “is the ultimate in conferring thingness upon the human embryo,” at which time we cross “a moral frontier.”

If we cross that line, Krauthammer worries less what “cloning does to the embryo,” than “what is does to us.” Once we allow this assault on human dignity, Krauthammer rightfully worries, then there is no limit on such assaults.