National Catholic Register


Maryland Bill Would Open Door to Unprecedented Stem-Cell Research

BY Kathryn Jean Lopez

March 30-April 5, 2003 Issue | Posted 3/30/03 at 1:00 PM


ANNAPOLIS, Md. —A ‘stemcell research” bill sitting in a maryland Assembly committee would legalize cloning for the use of the clone's adult stem cells, critics say.

The bill, House Bill 482, is unlike any other. In previous “clone and kill” bills — as pro-lifers have dubbed them — the legislation would allow for the cloning of embryos for use in medical research.

A bill currently in the U.S. Senate sponsored by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and California Democrat Dianne Feinstein would do just that — authorize so-called “research” or “therapeutic” cloning. A bill in New Jersey, which just nearly was brought to a vote last month, went further, allowing the cloning of an embryo and its harvesting through the newborn stage.

A bill co-sponsored by Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback and Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu — both Catholics — would prohibit all human cloning. Opponents of cloning consider it the only true ban being proposed.

The language of the Maryland bill states, “The General Assembly declares that it is the policy of the state that research involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells, human embryonic germ cells and human adult stem cells from any source, including somatic cell nuclear transplantation, shall be allowed and that full consideration shall be given to the ethical and medical implications of this research.”

Somatic cell nuclear transplantation refers to a technique used to create an embryonic clone and is often used as a euphemism for cloning itself. The danger there, many say, is that it confuses the issue and downplays its significance.

Maryland is one of six states — along with universities, charitable foundations, hospitals and companies — trying to bypass President George W. Bush's August 2001 restrictions on federal funding of stem-cell research.

The report on cloning issued by the President's Council on Bioethics last summer explained, “such terminological substitution is problematic ... Although as a scientific matter ‘somatic cell nuclear transfer’ or ‘nuclear transplantation’ may accurately describe the technique that is used to produce the embryonic clone, these terms fail to convey the nature of the deed itself, and they hide its human significance.”

Curt Civin, a cancer research professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said concerns about the bill are unwarranted because an eventual act by Congress to ensure a procedure that is already technically impractical will be “forbidden and punishable legally.”

A co-sponsor of the legislation, Maryland Delegate Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg, a Democrat, defended the bill, saying, “It is not my intent to leave the door open for cloning nor to allow obtaining adult stem cells from clones. That is not a reasonable interpretation of the bill. Two distinguished scientists at Johns Hopkins [medical school] would not have sat by my side testifying in support of the bill were this not the case.”

But on the other side of Rosenberg are four members of the President's Commission on Bioethics, who sent a letter to the chairman of the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee protesting the legislation.

The commissioners wrote: “The pending legislation expressly authorizes the harvesting and use of human embryonic stem cells, human embryonic germ cells (generally harvested around the eighth week of fetal development), and even human adult stem cells that originate from the human cloning method known as somatic cell nuclear transplantation.

“[T]he bill contemplates the creation of new human beings by cloning and, perhaps unintentionally, their cultivation from the zygote stage through the newborn stage for the purpose of harvesting what the legislation itself refers to as ‘cadaveric’ fetal tissue.”

The letter to Health and Government Operations Committee Chairman John Hurson was signed by Robert George of Princeton University, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University, Alfonso Gomez-Lobo of Georgetown University, Stanford University's William Hurlbut and Gilbert Meil-aender of Valparaiso University.

The letter warns that the Maryland bill is “not the ethically sound way to go.”

Open Door

Supporters of the legislation point to a California law that allows research cloning but bans reproductive cloning, like the Hatch-Feinstein bill in Congress. But, unlike bills in other states and on the national level, the Maryland bill does not even have an explicit ban on implantation of a cloned embryo, leaving open an unprecedented door to researchers and others.

Maryland Delegate Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat, who is co-sponsoring the bill and sits on the Maryland House Health and Government Operations Committee, said she does not believe the bill leaves open the door for research on the stem cells of clones beyond the embryonic stage and confesses her “discomfort” at such possibilities.

Currently, outside of the committee hearing on March 12, there has been little statewide debate or coverage of the “stem cell research bill” in Maryland. Pendergrass said she is not concerned about the lack of coverage, with other issues such as the budget of more interest to residents.

Pendergrass said she is more concerned about people “with life-begins-at-conception ideas ... making decisions for other people.” Asked about the concerns raised by Doerflinger and members of the bioethics commission, Pendergrass said, “I am sorry, I am not an expert.”

Richard Doerflinger, the deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, testified on behalf of the Maryland Catholic Conference at a committee hearing on the legislation March 12 in Annapolis.

A bill recently introduced in the New York Statehouse would also allow human cloning “and the gestating of cloned embryos through the fetal stage, as long as this is not done for the purpose of producing a live birth,” Doerflinger said in his testimony.

He told the Register the absence of a ban on implantation in the Maryland bill “ensures that this bill in Maryland will have no legal limits.”

“It is based on California's stem-cell law,” Doerflinger said, “but it does not incorporate Cali fornia's anti-reproductive-cloning law.”

Such ban is crucial, Doerflinger said, because “if there is no ban on implantation, there is no ban on cloning to develop fetal farms. There is no practical barrier, be cause one can use women's wombs to bring the embryos to that later stage.”

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor of National Review Online.