Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The House yesterday narrowly rejected a hastily introduced Democratic bill that critics said would have provided a legal loophole for the destruction of human embryos for scientific research.

The Human Cloning Prohibition Act, sponsored by Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, would have prohibited any person from performing or attempting to perform human cloning. The bill was defeated by a vote of 213-204, with 31 Democrats joining 182 Republicans in voting against the bill and 190 Democrats and 14 Republicans supporting it.

But critics say the bill’s definition of human cloning as the “implantation of the product of human somatic cell nuclear transfer technology into the uterus” would not have covered creating embryos in a laboratory, which some scientists want to do to extract the cells for research purposes. In that process, the human embryo is destroyed, which has led to moral condemnation of the research.

“The DeGette bill creates federally authorized cloning labs,” said Dorinda C. Bordlee, vice president of the Bioethics Defense Fund, a bioethics law and policy organization. “These labs could legally exploit young women as egg farms for the purpose of creating human embryos that must be destroyed for unproven science experiments.”

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and one of the pro-life leaders in the House, denounced “this phony bill” as not “a real ban on human cloning.”

House Republicans also were upset they weren’t consulted on the drafting of bill, which was introduced late Tuesday without any committee hearings or markups.

“We just basically take [Mrs. DeGette’s] word that it is what it is,” said Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican.

“There is a good chance that if we had a legislative hearing, if we had a markup, we could probably come to a consensus on a bill” against cloning that the House “could support. … But it is not this bill. Not this process.”

But Democrats say that Republicans are falsely interpreting the bill, and deny its passage would lead to the destruction of cloned embryos.

“The bill bans human reproductive cloning. Nothing more, nothing less.” Mrs. DeGette said yesterday on the House floor. “The argument of those who say they are against cloning is that we should defeat our bill to prevent cloned embryos from being killed. It defies logic.”

The debate precluded a scheduled vote in the House today on a bill to lift a federal ban on federal funding for new lines of human embryonic stem cells, despite the threat of a presidential veto.

The measure, which passed the Senate in April by a vote of 63-34, is expected to pass the House. But it appears doubtful the Democratic-crafted bill has enough support in either chamber to override a veto.

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