Senate faces fiercest fight: cloning
As Capitol Hill weighs a historic cloning bill, advocates fire fervent ads, and some liberals ally with Christian right.
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The ban appears in both the House bill and a version of the Senate bill sponsored by Sens. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas and Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana. Scientists are especially concerned that the prospect of up-to-10-year jail terms for researchers who violate such a ban would have a chilling effect on stem-cell research or drive it overseas.Skip to next paragraph
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Many nations have already banned human-reproductive cloning; the UN is now drafting a treaty to make that ban worldwide. Others, such as Germany, have also outlawed therapeutic cloning. With the US a world leader in scientific research, its moves on this front are closely watched.
For nearly 25 years, Washington has blocked federal funding for research involving human embryos. On Aug. 9, President Bush broke that ban, when he announced that federal funds could be used for research on existing human embryonic stem cells. But the pace of innovation in private labs is forcing politicians to look more closely at the need for new laws.
Soon after Scottish embryologists announced the cloning of Dolly the sheep on Feb. 24, 1997, then-President Clinton urged private companies to adopt a voluntary ban on human cloning. The last effort to legislate the issue deadlocked in the Senate in 1998. Last July, the House banned both reproductive and therapeutic cloning, by a vote of 265-162. On April 10, Bush backed that position.
But last November's announcement that Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass., had created the world's first cloned human embryos turned up pressure on the Senate to legislate on the issue swiftly. And an Italian fertility doctor made unconfirmed claims this month that three cloned human pregnancies are under way.
"Technologies are approaching certain thresholds that the public has long said it does not want to cross, and now we need legislation to ensure that they aren't" says Richard Hayes, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, Calif.
Conservatives say creating a human embryo for the purpose of destroying it is wrong, even for purposes of medical research. "We must not allow the procedures used to create Dolly the lamb to create Dolly the human. We'll very much regret it if we start treating the human species as livestock," says Senator Brownback.
In this bid for a comprehensive ban, conservatives picked up unexpected support from some pro-choice liberals, who call for a moratorium on research cloning, until there are safeguards to protect women and ensure that research embryos do not migrate to fertility clinics.
They note that the debate has been polarized between a total cloning ban on one side, and giving a free hand to biotech firms for therapeutic cloning, on the other.
"We support choice," says Judy Norsigian, executive director of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. "Many of us support, for example, obtaining stem cells from embryos in IVF clinics that would otherwise be destroyed. But we also need protection for women."
Meanwhile, Senate undecideds are narrowing to 10-to-15. Many Democrats are rallying around an alternative bill, sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, which outlaws reproductive cloning, but allows therapeutic cloning.