- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

The American Bar Association adopted a policy yesterday opposing any government ban on cloning for medical research and any penalties against those who pursue it.

"This research is of critical importance," said Robyn Shapiro, director of the Center for the Study of Bioethics at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and an author of the policy.

Lawyers who crafted the policy wrote: "Governmental action that would ban all forms of cloning, and thereby foreclose all potential avenues of medical advancement offered by therapeutic cloning, poses a direct and serious threat to freedom of scientific inquiry."

The ABA's policy-making House of Delegates yesterday approved the resolution by voice vote during an annual conference in the District.

The new ABA stance goes against the Bush administration, which favors a ban on the cloning of human embryos for any purpose, including medical research.

The House passed a bill last year that would institute such a ban, but the issue is stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, introduced an identical bill.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, introduced a competing bill that would allow human cloning for medical research purposes but ban human cloning for the purpose of producing an infant.

Myles V. Lynk, a lawyer from Tempe, Ariz., and chairman of the ABA's Special Committee on Bioethics and the Law, said the new policy would enable the 400,000-member group "to oppose the blunt instrument" of a total ban, as well as to give input on appropriate safeguards for such research.

The new ABA stance goes beyond cloning in opposing any ban on "scientific research conducted for therapeutic purposes," including therapeutic cloning which it describes as "cell nuclear transfer that is not intended to replicate a human being."

The policy opposes any government effort to penalize those who pursue such research and makes clear that the research must be conducted with proper legal, ethical and research safeguards.

According to Ms. Shapiro, "It explicitly does not support reproductive cloning."

The cloning technique consists of removing the nucleus from a donated egg and inserting in its place the nucleus of a body cell, such as a skin cell.

When a baby is the intended result, the early-stage embryo that results from the nuclear transfer is nurtured to the point that it can be implanted in the womb of a surrogate mother. In "therapeutic" cloning, the development of the primitive embryo is halted as soon as stem cells develop and can be harvested for research purposes.

Supporters of therapeutic cloning say stem cells derived this way could theoretically be used to grow tissues that would match the patient's DNA and thus would not be rejected by the body.

Opponents say it is morally reprehensible to create human life for the sole purpose of destroying it for medical research.

Pro-life activists said the ABA position would make little difference on Capitol Hill.

"I don't think the Senate is going to pay any particular attention to whether the lawyers' club thinks that human embryo farms are a good idea," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee and key proponent of the Brownback bill.

But Howard Gantman, spokesman for Mrs. Feinstein, said the ABA's action "shows that there is a growing support throughout the nation for this position."

The ABA also adopted a policy yesterday opposing the incommunicado detention of immigrants in undisclosed locations and urging the government to protect their constitutional and statutory rights by, among other things, disclosing their names and whereabouts and providing access to attorneys and family members.

Another policy adopted by the group yesterday encourages government to make unmarried partners of people who die in terrorist attacks or other crimes eligible for government victim-compensation funds, regardless of sexual orientation.

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