Senate Democratic leaders said yesterday there’s not enough time to debate a ban on human cloning this year, rejecting calls by President Bush and some Republican senators for swift action.
A surprise announcement this weekend that scientists at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., had cloned a human embryo for research purposes moved the debate on cloning from “what if?” to “what now?”
Yesterday, Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, forced the matter by trying to bring up for immediate action in the Senate a bill banning all human cloning, which the House passed in July.
Democratic leadership blocked the move. Assistant Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Democrats plan to stick to an agreement they and Mr. Brownback worked out earlier to hold a debate in February or March, after extensive hearings on the issue.
Mr. Reid said there is no consensus on cloning in the Senate, and there’s simply not enough time to debate it before the end of the year: “You just can’t do it. We have a lot of needs we need to address.”
But Mr. Brownback said the Massachusetts scientists who announced they had grown a cluster of cloned cells even though the cells died fairly quickly have shown that there’s no time to wait.
“Before we take this issue back up, we’re going to see more of these things announced,” he warned.
In the wake of this weekend’s announcement, Mr. Bush also called for quick action on a bill to ban all human cloning.
There is a consensus on banning cloning for the purpose of creating a human, both sides agreed. The sticking point, though, is whether to ban what’s commonly called “therapeutic cloning” growing human embryos so they can be used for stem-cell research.
Scientists say stem cells might be used to find cures for degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
But Mr. Brownback and other opponents say cells used for research could also be implanted in a woman’s uterus to create a new life, raising questions about where to draw the line.
Mr. Brownback is still considering a way to bring the issue up this year.
A spokesman said yesterday afternoon that while Mr. Brownback hasn’t made a decision what to do, he’s keeping every legislative option open.
His most likely option is to pursue a moratorium that would prohibit further cloning until the Senate has a chance to take the issue up in its entirety.
But Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said he opposes a moratorium.
“A six-month delay will not save lives and could extend unnecessarily the search for a cure for a lot of these diseases that ought to be addressed as quickly as possible,” he said.
Among the options Mr. Brownback has for forcing the issue this year are amendments to other bills and filibustering other action until the chamber agrees to address cloning.
Mr. Daschle, though, encouraged senators not to go that route.
“I hope that we will avoid having to deal with the issue in the short time we have left before the end of this session, but if we are forced to deal with it, my hope is that the Senate will act prudently,” he said. “We’ll say, ‘Let’s take a deep breath. Let’s think about this. Let’s make the right decision.’ That’s a lot better than making a decision we’ll regret later.”
The pending House bill scheduled for action in the Senate next year banned both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. It passed the House 265-162 in July, with 200 Republicans and 65 Democrats voting for it.