- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

Actor Christopher Reeve, who actively promotes spinal cord injury research since an accident left him paralyzed, urged lawmakers yesterday to allow the human cloning procedure to be used for medical research.
"Our government is supposed to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people," Mr. Reeve said at a hearing held by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "Beyond that we have a moral responsibility to help others."
The Senate is expected to take up soon a proposal by Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, that would ban the cloning of human embryos for any purpose, including to harvest their stem cells for medical research. The House already has passed identical legislation.
Mr. Reeve, patient advocates and the biotechnology industry say Mr. Brownback's bill would close a promising avenue of medical research. "Our country is about to lose its pre-eminence in science and medicine," Mr. Reeve told the panel. "If we act now, we still have a chance to catch up. I urge the Senate to defeat Senator Brownback's bill."
Mr. Reeve, chairman of the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, and Mr. Kennedy support competing legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, that would ban what is called human "reproductive" cloning but allow "therapeutic" cloning. The Brownback bill would ban both.
Mr. Brownback and co-sponsor Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, held a press conference yesterday to highlight the broad political spectrum in support of their bill, including liberal activist Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends.
Mr. Rifkin said that cloning is not a pro-choice versus pro-life debate, and that many members of the leftist community will visit senators in coming weeks to urge support for the Brownback bill.
"Human embryos are not research tools," Mr. Rifkin said. "If we open this door, we will move into a very dangerous eugenics era." He warned that anything less than a total ban would create a market for women's eggs, enticing poor women to compromise their health for money.
At issue is the cloning technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, which 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 broad 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.
Supporters of therapeutic cloning 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. "In a sense, a person's own DNA is used to create compatible cells for the treatment of, for example, that individual's cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injury or Parkinson's disease," biologist Paul Berg, chairman of the American Society of Cell Biology Public Policy Committee, told the panel.
Proponents of the Brownback bill say both types are the same.
"The reality is this: All cloning is reproductive cloning because cloning for any purpose results in the creation of a new living human being," Genevieve Wood, vice president for media at the Family Research Council, said at the Brownback-Landrieu press conference. "So-called therapeutic cloning is not therapeutic at all, and the reason is because it results in the death of the cloned human being."
Many involved in the cloning debate hoped the issue would reach the Senate floor in March, but Mr. Kennedy said yesterday it would likely have to wait until April while the Senate finishes debating energy and campaign-finance legislation.

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