- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

President Bush yesterday made it clear he would work with Congress on legislation that bans human cloning and announced he would readily sign a law that did so.

"The president believes that no research no research to create a human being should take place in the United States," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "The president believes that any attempt to clone a human being would present a grave risk both to the mother and the child. He opposes it on moral grounds."

Mr. Fleischer noted that Mr. Bush supports President Clinton's 1997 executive order banning the use of federal funds for human cloning research.

The White House announcement came as members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee heard testimony from fertility specialists who favor cloning as well as from members of a Canada-based religious sect who support such efforts.

Reproductive researcher Panos Zavos, who resigned this month from the University of Kentucky, had announced earlier this year that he and Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori would clone a human within 12 months.

Despite the advice and outraged warnings of American scientists and others who say the risks of cloning humans and the possibility of producing grotesque results make human cloning attempts unethical, the two have promised to proceed with their experiment.

The doctors say cloning could help infertile couples who they said have a right to a biologically related child.

"Those that say ban it, those would not be the Neil Armstrongs that would fly us to the moon," Mr. Zavos told the committee. In any event, the doctor added, four years after Scottish researchers cloned a sheep, "The genie's out of the bottle."

Brigitte Boisselier, a member of a religious group called the Raelians, directs that organization's Bahamas-based cloning operation, called Clonaid.

She told the panel the safety issues other scientists raised might apply to animal cloning but not to the cloning of the human animal. She said it was possible to avoid producing a deformed baby simply by checking the embryos to be implanted in surrogate mothers.

The French-born founder of the 55,000-member Raelian movement, who goes by the single name Rael, provided a statement to the committee.

"Traditional religions have always been against scientific progress," said the statement from Rael, who claims life on Earth was created by extraterrestrial scientists. "Nothing should stop science… . Ethical committees are unnecessary and dangerous because they give power to conservative, obscurantist forces, which are guided only by traditional religious powers."

The committee members were unswayed.

"Cloning may literally threaten the character of our human nature," said committee chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican. He said he plans to introduce legislation banning cloning this spring. "I believe the burden is on the proponents of human cloning to make a moral and scientific case for these experiments."

Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican, went further, declaring that cloning "interferes with the natural order of things. People have a right to their own genetic makeup, which should not be replicated."

The cloning of animals has been achieved by removing the nucleus from a donor egg and inserting it into the remnant of egg cells from the animal being cloned. The resulting mass is nurtured in special fluids where the nucleus and egg cells fuse and begin dividing into an embryo. The embryo is then implanted in a surrogate mother.

Only a tiny percentage of cloned animals that are born appear to be normal. And some of these may in fact have brain development problems that are not apparent because animals are not sophisticated enough to demonstrate them, scientists say. Most scientists expect problems encountered in cloning animals will occur in attempts to clone humans.

Congress worked on legislation banning cloning a couple of years ago, but failed to produce a bill.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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