Legislation to ban human cloning for any purpose, including medical research, was approved yesterday on a party-line vote by the House Judiciary Committee.
Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said House Republican leaders will bring the bill to the House floor the week of Feb. 24.
A ban on human cloning has received widespread support, but lawmakers are divided over whether to allow “therapeutic cloning” for medical research. Advocates say the stem cells derived from this procedure could be the key to curing a host of diseases, and complain the bill would stop research in its tracks.
Supporters of the bill say therapeutic cloning creates human embryos and that human life should not be created and destroyed in the name of medical research.
“Allowing the creation of human embryos for experimental research is unethical and unnecessary,” said Rep. Dave Weldon, Florida Republican and sponsor of the bill.
The panel approved the legislation in a 19-12 vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposing.
Democrats said bill supporters were trying to force their religious views on the rest of the country. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said Congress “should not be criminalizing fields of research” because of “one religious view of the unanswerable question of when life begins.”
“It’s no business of ours to adopt any religious point of view and impose it on everyone else,” he said.
Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, said, “Whenever one slices the issue of when life begins, there is no question but that we are dealing at a minimum with nascent human life.” He added that “government power … ought to back ever and always slowly away from the awesome power of human life.”
The cloning technique involves the removal of 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 is nurtured to the point that it can be implanted in the womb of a surrogate mother to produce a baby. 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.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, offered an amendment that would have allowed therapeutic cloning. It was defeated in a 19-12 vote, along party lines.
“Therapeutic cloning has nothing to do with cloning a human being,” Mrs. Lofgren said in arguing for her proposal. “There is no fertilization of the egg by sperm, there is no implantation in the uterus, there is no pregnancy, there is no child. Therapeutic cloning has everything to do with saving lives and discovering cures.”
Supporters of the ban say that once human embryos are cloned for research, it will be virtually impossible to stop researchers from creating cloned humans.