- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

A New Jersey law that took effect this week permits the cloning of human embryos and, critics say, allows for embryos to be cloned and grown through the fetal stages for medical research.

“Its central purpose is to make New Jersey a safe haven for human cloning,” said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He called the New Jersey law “more extreme than any law on cloning in any of the 50 states.”

Proponents of the New Jersey law — signed Sunday by Democratic Gov. James E. McGreevey, accompanied by actor Christopher Reeve, who is paralyzed — say that these accusations are untrue and that the law is meant to encourage research on a host of ailments.

“Those who would say that this laudable legislation that clears the way for science to combat diseases is really a front for bizarre desires to produce human beings through cloning — it’s simply a scare tactic,” said Daniel Perry, incoming president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which fought aggressively to pass the New Jersey law.

President Bush has restricted federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research to certain existing lines of stem cells. Although the New Jersey law and a similar California law can’t change that, they aim to encourage such research through other avenues and to create safe havens.

Embryonic stem cells can renew themselves and have the potential to develop into various types of body cells, so scientists speculate they could be used someday to grow new tissues and organs.

The new law permits stem-cell research using human embryonic stem cells, human embryonic germ cells or human adult stem cells.

It also permits embryonic stem cells to be derived through the human cloning process, where an egg’s nucleus is removed, the egg is injected with the nucleus of a body cell, and the cloned embryo is allowed to develop for several days before it is destroyed and its stem cells are extracted.

The new law specifically bans human cloning to produce “a human being,” supporters note. But the law defines this as taking the cloning process through the egg, embryo, fetus and newborn stages.

Mr. Doerflinger and others say this means a New Jersey scientist will be allowed to clone an embryo, implant it in a womb and carry it through various stages of development, killing it before it is born.

Connie Mackey, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, said this makes New Jersey “the number-one most hostile place for human life in recent memory.”

Mr. Perry disputed that, saying the aim of scientists is not to grow cloned fetuses, but rather, to collect valuable stem cells at the early stages of a cloned embryo. A New Jersey aide who helped craft the law argued that the cloning process doesn’t even produce an embryo, because no sperm ever fertilizes the egg.

But critics said the bill proves the need for a federal ban on human cloning for any purpose, including medical research. Such a bill passed the House but is stalled in the Senate.

“Only passage of the Weldon-Brownback bill will stop our nation from moving down this path,” said the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Dave Weldon, Florida Republican.

Still, House and Senate aides privately doubted that the New Jersey law significantly would move the cloning issue on Capitol Hill this year.

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