President Bush and leading congressional conservatives yesterday called for quick action to ban human cloning and accused the company that claimed to have cloned a human embryo of “crossing the line.”
Religious leaders and politicians around the world joined in condemning scientists at Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass., following the announcement on Sunday that they had successfully cloned a human embryo.
“The use of embryos to clone is wrong,” Mr. Bush told reporters yesterday. “We should not as a society grow life to destroy it. And that’s exactly what’s taking place.”
His spokesman, Ari Fleischer, later said the president hoped “that as a result of this first crossing of the line the Senate will act on the House legislation so that this procedure can be banned.”
Officials of the biotechnology company said they did not intend to clone a human being. Rather, they said, they hoped to develop a method for harvesting from embryo stem cells that might be used to heal spinal-cord injuries and perhaps to cure diseases. Cloning for that purpose is called “therapeutic cloning.”
However, several cloning specialists yesterday discounted even the claims of “success” by Advanced Cell and Dr. Michael D. West, the group president.
“It’s a stretch to call what West did as cloning an embryo,” said biochemist Larry Goldstein of the University of California at San Diego. “He and his crew induced human eggs to undergo a couple of rounds of divisions. What they made was not human. I don’t know what they made, but they’re not really embryos.”
Mr. Goldstein charged that Advanced Cell was “manipulating the press,” creating a “tempest in a teapot.”
Indeed, the company has generated a storm of protest.
The Vatican declared in a statement, “Notwithstanding the humanistic intents this calls for a calm but resolute appraisal which shows the moral gravity of this project and calls for unequivocal condemnation.”
“Therapeutic aims are excellent; they are praiseworthy. However, it is the means used that raise the questions,” added Monsignor Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of the church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
If it involves “production and destruction of human beings to treat other human beings,” he said in an interview on Italian state television, “the end doesn’t justify the means.”
The National Pro-Life Religious Council, representing groups within the Catholic, evangelical Protestant, old-line Protestant and Orthodox churches, urged Advanced Cell “immediately to cease and desist their activities in this regard.”
The council also asked, in a statement issued yesterday, for a meeting with Dr. West “to discuss the grave moral and ethical consequences” of a decision to “play God by manufacturing human beings.”
Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, yesterday joined Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, and the leaders of 10 religious and pro-life groups for a news conference at which he urged the Senate “to pass a complete ban on human cloning immediately.”
The Senate planned to debate the human-cloning issue sometime this spring, but Mr. Brownback said events “make it clear that we must act sooner” on the measure proposed by the House.
Mr. Brownback said Sunday through a spokesman that he would introduce a bill calling for a six-month moratorium on cloning.
The House voted 265-162 in July to make it a crime “to perform or attempt to perform human cloning,” with violations resulting in jail terms up to 10 years.
The legislation also banned the technique of transferring the nuclear material from human body cells into a fertilized or unfertilized egg to produce a living organism.
That process is known as “somatic nuclear transfer.” It is the method used to create Dolly, the first cloned sheep, and it is permitted for certain research in Great Britain and Japan.
Elsewhere, governments are “watching the United States,” a spokesman for the Australian Embassy says.
Scientists say the use of nuclear transfer and even certain experiments on embryos are essential and will be pursued one way or another even if they are banned in the United States.
Advanced Cell tried but failed to use the method in its newly announced experiments. Researchers eventually caused the cells to multiply through “parthenogenesis,” a method of chemical stimulation. The cells lasted five days, then died before forming an embryo that contained stem cells.