- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) — Following President George W. Bush's renewed call for a ban on human cloning, senators and members of Congress debated the ethical and medical implications of the issue at a Senate hearing Wednesday.

Republicans generally favored banning the technology completely, while a bipartisan group urged that it be permitted only for the purpose of producing cells potentially to treat diseases.

Most reputable scientists favor banning reproductive cloning but want to allow therapeutic cloning — using the technology to produce embryonic stem cells or tissues — because they think it has the potential to treat currently incurable diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes, as well as paralysis.

The Republicans were led by Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, who argued that all forms of cloning should be banned because of moral and ethical concerns.

Brownback introduced legislation in the Senate Wednesday to ban all human cloning. Under the bill, anyone attempting to clone a human being would face criminal penalties on the order of 10 years in jail and $1 million in fines.

"I, along with the president and the vast majority of Americans, do not believe that we should create human life just to destroy it," Brownback said at a hearing of the Senate commerce subcommittee on science, technology and space, which he chairs. "Yet this is exactly what is being proposed by those who support cloning in some circumstances." In order to harvest stem cells from therapeutic cloning, the embryo must be destroyed.

"All cloning is reproductive," Brownback argued. "By that I mean all human cloning produces another human life. The threat presented to us by the Raelians is one that should re-focus our attention on the immediacy of passing a permanent and comprehensive ban on all human cloning."

The Raelians, a religious group that believes humans originally were cloned from space aliens, claim to have cloned three babies, although they have not yet offered any proof.

Despite Brownback's assertions that most Americans oppose cloning, a bipartisan group of senators — including some right-to-life Republicans — spoke out in favor of allowing therapeutic cloning.

"I am here today to speak to the subcommittee about how to stop the offensive practice of human reproductive cloning while at the same time, allowing vital biomedical research to go forward under moral and ethical guidelines and protections," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a self-described right-to-lifer.

"A critical feature of being pro-life in my opinion is helping the living," Hatch said. "Helping those millions of American families struggling with the challenges of debilitating diseases is exactly what stem cell research … from (therapeutic cloning) promises," he said.

Hatch, along with several other senators, plans to introduce alternative legislation next week to ban reproductive cloning but allow therapeutic cloning. Last year, the House passed legislation that would ban all cloning, but the Senate failed to pass a matching measure because some senators favored allowing therapeutic cloning.

"Failure to enact legislation that sanctions (therapeutic cloning) research accompanied by stringent ethical safeguards undermines America's role as a leader in biomedical research," Hatch said. It "may result in the potentially revolutionary fruits of this research — as well as some of our leading researchers — in moving offshore and away from the American public."

Members of Congress opposed to cloning maintained there are no scientific studies that support its potential for curing disease.

"There's no evidence in the scientific literature that cloning can be used even in an animal model in (treating) any form of disease," said Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla. Weldon, who was a physician for 15 years and did research in molecular biology, introduced legislation in the House earlier this month to ban all human cloning.

However, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said a number of scientists and scientific and medical organizations had sent him letters in support of therapeutic cloning.

Wyden also noted some representatives who favored a ban on cloning have signaled they now have modified their position. The members, who Wyden did not name, have said they now are willing to allow importation of medical products or treatments derived from therapeutic cloning into the United States.

"Isn't this change an admission that there are potential medical breakthroughs?" Wyden asked.

In addition, the Council for the Advancement of Medical Research, a patient advocacy group composed of 75 major scientific and medical societies, universities and patient groups, favors allowing therapeutic cloning to move forward.

Kris Gulden, a former police officer who was paralyzed in 1998 when a car struck her bike, testified on behalf of CAMR.

"It is unconscionable to me that the United States Congress would choose to prohibit research that could lead to cures and treatments for many devastating diseases and disabilities," said Gulden, 36, of Alexandria, Va.

"For me, the only escape from paralysis is to dream. In my dreams, I still walk. I run, I play basketball, and I wear the uniform of the Alexandria Police Department," she said. "Please don't take away the hope of countless Americans who could benefit from therapeutic cloning."

Weldon noted neither cloning ban bill prohibits the research from moving forward in animals. "Animal research can move ahead unfettered and if (therapeutic cloning) really does show the supposed promise then we can revisit the issue," he said.

Placing a moratorium on therapeutic cloning was supported by Leon Kass, chairman of the president's council on bioethics, which issued a report on cloning in July concluding that reproductive cloning should be banned. However, the panel split on whether therapeutic cloning should be permitted.

Wyden responded: "You are saying revisit it but all these suffering Americans can't afford to wait."

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