- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

With the human-cloning debate poised to heat up in the Senate, two groups launched ads this week pressuring senators to support a ban on cloning human embryos for any purpose, including the extraction of stem cells for medical research.

Proponents of the ban, sponsored by Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, hope the Senate will take it up in early March. The House has already passed identical legislation.

Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said Tuesday the cloning debate could possibly reach the Senate floor within weeks.

The National Right to Life Committee is focusing its efforts first on Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who has not formally announced his position on the Brownback bill.

An NRLC radio ad, which began running Monday in seven Utah cities including Salt Lake, warns that "some biotechnology corporations are working on a nightmare project. Using cloning techniques already used on animals, they plan to mass produce human embryos, then kill them in experimentation."

Mr. Hatch said Tuesday he is still studying the value of using the human cloning technique for medical research purposes, adding that he sees the arguments on both sides.

"I'm not for human cloning and I think everyone knows it. I am for good therapies that will help save lives how we get there is still up in the air and I'm studying it with all I've got," Mr. Hatch said.

"Senator Hatch is a respected senator, so obviously we are concerned that he might vote to allow human embryo farms to open for business," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of NRLC.

Mr. Hatch said he is not about to make a "knee-jerk" decision on such a complex issue and that running ads in his state is "not the way to get my vote."

The grass-roots lobbying group Stop Human Cloning launched a TV ad campaign in Georgia and North Dakota Tuesday urging people to place calls to the four Democratic senators in those states in support of the Brownback legislation.

The 30-second spot features a scientist, a doctor, a clergyman and a mother saying that cloning an embryo creates a human life that "should not be destroyed for experiments."

At issue is the cloning technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. The procedure 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.

In "reproductive" cloning, 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 to produce an infant. There is widespread agreement this should be banned.

In "therapeutic" cloning, the development of the resulting primitive embryo, or blastocyst, is halted as soon as a cluster of stem cells develops.

The stem cells then are harvested for research purposes.

Mr. Brownback's bill would ban both. Competing legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, would only ban reproductive cloning.

Georgia Democrat Zell Miller, who is a target of the TV ad, has already endorsed Mrs. Feinstein's bill. The remaining three Democratic senators who are targets of the ad have not formally backed the legislation.

Proponents of Mrs. Feinstein's bill say therapeutic cloning must be allowed. They say it could potentially be used to produce tissue or organs that exactly match the person into whom they are implanted, virtually eliminating the danger that the person's body would reject them. Some also say the process does not produce a human embryo at all because it does not involve a sperm fertilizing an egg.

Michael Werner, vice president of Bioethics for the Biotechnology Industry Organization a group lobbying against the Brownback bill said the NRLC ad "tries to evoke fear."

He said his industry wants to find cures for diseases.

"If you or your mom or dad or child has cancer, that's the 'nightmare' that our industry is worried about," Mr. Werner said in response to the ad.

He said BIO is not planning to run ads at this point.

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