Senate to Take Up Cloning Ban Amid Continuing Adult Stem Cell Success

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to outlaw all forms of human cloning Feb. 27 in what President George W. Bush hailed as a “re-sounding bipartisan vote [demonstrating] concern for the profound moral and social issues posed by human cloning.”

The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003, sponsored by Reps. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), passed by a vote of 241 to 155. The Weldon-Stupak legislation was passed in the previous Congress, but the Senate failed to act on the companion bill sponsored by Sens. Sam Brownback (RKan.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

Bush has repeatedly called for a ban on all forms of cloning, whether “reproductive” (cloning to bring a child to birth) or “therapeutic” (cloning and destroying human embryos for medical research).

In his State of the Union address Jan. 28, the president asked Congress to “set a high standard for humanity and pass a law against all hu man cloning.” After the House vote Feb. 27, he urged the Senate “to act quickly” and pass companion legislation, which he has vowed to sign into law.

The Bush administration, according to a statement Feb. 26, is officially opposed “to any legislation that would prohibit human cloning for reproductive purposes but permit the creation of cloned embryos or development of human-embryo farms for research.”

Weldon called the House vote “a resounding victory. … Any attempt at human cloning, for whatever purpose, is a gross form of human experimentation that the American people oppose.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Right to Life Committee hailed the passage of the Weldon-Stupak bill. Pro-lifers are hoping the Brown-back-Landrieu bill also will pass now that Re publicans have re gained control of the Senate.

But National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas Johnson warned the BrownbackLandrieu bill faces the threat of a filibuster from senators who want “to allow biotech firms to open up cloned human-embryo farms.”

The Senate companion bill also faces a rival bill, sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would ban “reproductive” cloning but allow “therapeutic” cloning.

An amendment to weaken the House bill was rejected by a vote of 174 to 231. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jim Greenwood (RPa.), would have legalized “therapeutic” cloning, which many scientists wish to pursue as a source of stem cells.

Therapeutic Value?

Stem cells have the potential to develop into various tissue types and are said to hold the key to curing a host of diseases and disabilities. They are present in bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and other fully developed tissues of the human body, but many researchers believe “adult” stem cells are not as useful as the embryonic ones.

The argument persists in spite of the fact that so far only adult stem cells have proven therapeutic value.

“The fact is that adult stem cells have already been used successfully in over 45 clinical trials to treat humans,” Weldon said in a statement Jan. 8. “[Adult] stem cells have already been used to treat cancers, restore vision to patients who were legally blind and treat multiple sclerosis. Researchers recently treated a 57-year-old man with Parkinson's using his own brain stem cells.”

Kansas State University researchers announced recently that a substance known as “Wharton's jelly,” found in newborn umbilical cords, is flexible enough to form nerve cells. Their study also indicates the substance can be used to create large numbers of new stem cells, undercutting the argument that cloning embryos is necessary to produce the quantities needed for clinical applications.

Church Teaching

The Catholic Church has repeatedly condemned the production of human embryos through in vitro fertilization or cloning and the destruction of embryos, in whatever way they are produced, for “therapeutic” purposes.

In a letter supporting the Weldon-Stupak bill Feb. 25, Philadelphia's Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua said in the midst of technological advances and competing claims about which source of stem cells is more promising, “the basic moral issue has not changed.

“Cloning dehumanizes human procreation, treating new human life as a mere laboratory product made to specifications. Whether used to bring cloned human embryos to live birth … or to exploit them as sources of ‘spare parts’ for other humans … human cloning diminishes us all.”

“The allegedly lofty goals proposed for cloning cannot outweigh the grim reality of the activity itself,” said the cardinal, who is chairman of the committee for pro-life activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Anti-Cloning Legislation

The Raelian UFO cult claimed during the Christmas holidays to have brought human clones to birth for the first time. Although the cult did not offer any proof and the claim was widely thought to be a publicity stunt, the announcement did set off a flurry of anti-cloning legislative efforts across the country.

USA Today reported Feb. 25 at least 48 bills to ban or regulate the practice were introduced in 22 state legislatures and Congress since the new year.

According to the bishops' committee for pro-life activities Iowa, Michigan and Virginia already have banned human cloning for any purpose. Louisiana, Rhode Island and California ban “reproductive” cloning, and Louisiana and Rhode Island have other laws that might be used to prohibit “therapeutic” cloning as well.

South Dakota has banned research that harms embryos, including cloned embryos, and five other states — Maine, Massa chu setts, Min nesota, North Dakota and Penn sylvania — have laws that might have the same effect, even though they do not mention cloning specifically.

Some of the proposed new measures ban only “reproductive” cloning, and other more comprehensive-sounding bans could have serious loopholes.

A bill expected to pass in New Jersey is being promoted as a ban on cloning even though it is actually intended to encourage “therapeutic” cloning. And as the Register reported recently, experts say the wording of the legislation would legalize the harvesting of body parts from full-term cloned babies — so long as the child is destroyed before it passes the “newborn stage.”

The Brownback-Landrieu bill has been reintroduced in the Senate and if passed would override state laws on cloning. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who controls the legislative agenda of the Senate, has indicated he supports a ban on all forms of human cloning.

David Curtin writes from Toronto.

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