- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

An effort to ban human cloning got under way in the new 108th Congress last week with the introduction of a House bill that would outlaw cloning embryos for any purpose, including medical research.
"Any attempt at human cloning, for whatever purpose, is a gross form of human experimentation that the American people oppose," said Dave Weldon, Florida Republican, who introduced the bill with Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat. The House passed Mr. Weldon's measure last year and President Bush strongly supported it, but it lay dormant in the Democrat-controlled Senate. With Republicans now in control of the Senate, bill supporters hope it passes.
The House likely will pass Mr. Weldon's bill again this year, House Republican aides said. And Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, plans to introduce an equivalent measure in the Senate, as he did last session. It has the support of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, who is a physician.
"I'm certainly hopeful we'll deal with it in the next few months," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. "Obviously this is an issue in the public eye right now and one that the vast majority of Americans are very concerned about. And the law of the land allows cloning to proceed in this country."
The issue was brought into the spotlight last month when Clonaid, a corporation established by a religious sect to develop human cloning, claimed it had cloned the first human infant, a baby girl.
While there is widespread support to ban cloning human infants, division comes over whether to allow the human cloning process to be used for medical research a term dubbed "therapeutic cloning." Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and other advocates of this say stem cells derived from the process could be the key to curing a host of diseases and ailments.
The human-cloning technique involves 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 is nurtured to the point that it can be implanted in the womb of a surrogate mother to produce an infant. 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.
Mrs. Feinstein plans to introduce her competing proposal soon. It would allow human therapeutic cloning to continue but would outlaw human reproductive cloning by banning the implantation of the cloned embryo into a uterus. A Senate Democrat aide said the bill would be introduced this week, possibly Wednesday, with the support of Sens. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, both of whom supported it last session.
Some supporters say the human cloning process does not create a human embryo because it does not involve sperm. But advocates of the bill say that it clearly does produce a human embryo, and that human life should not be created simply to be destroyed in the name of research.
Mr. Frist's communications director, Bob Stevenson, could not say when the cloning issue would come up in the Senate, noting that leaders have yet to finalize committees and talk to incoming chairmen about priorities.
But Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, said the cloning debate could well be Mr. Frist's first and "biggest leadership challenge" in his new post.
Both Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Brownback have considered altering their original proposals to gain more Senate votes. Mr. Brownback is considering limiting his ban to a temporary moratorium of a few years.
Mr. Connor balked at those who would only support a temporary ban. While he commended Mr. Brownback, he said there are "some nervous nellies who feel that a complete ban is unachievable and aren't willing to fight for it."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Feinstein is considering requiring that the cloned blastocyst only be kept up to 14 days and the stem cells be extracted within that time.
Any cloning proposal in the Senate may face blocking tactics. Sixty votes are needed to end debate cloture and force a vote.
A Senate Republican aide said the Brownback proposal has gained four votes in the Senate since last year because four new Republican senators replaced or defeated those opposed to Mr. Brownback's bill. Neither the Brownback camp nor the Feinstein camp has done an official vote count yet this year, but both sides are courting new senators.
But even some experienced lawmakers said they do not know enough about the complex topic.
"There's a lot of questions I have," said Sen Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican. He supports a temporary ban but wants to hear more from doctors and ethicists.

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