No U.S. funds for human cloning Clinton issues ban, urges private sector to refrain from efforts

March 05, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Stepping into an uncharted intersection of science and morality, President Clinton banned the use of federal funds for human cloning research yesterday and called upon private-sector scientists to voluntarily refrain from such experiments.

Responding to last week's report that a Scottish scientist had cloned a sheep -- and more recent news of the cloning of two monkeys in Oregon -- Clinton cautioned that the emerging science is creating new ethical burdens for humanity even as it holds great promise for agriculture, medicine and other areas of commerce.

"Science often moves faster than our ability to understand its implications," said Clinton, who chose to put cloning work on hold while a presidential bioethics panel studies the issue.

"That is why we have a responsibility to move with caution and care" to harness the emerging technology, he said.

"There is much about cloning that we still do not know," he added. "But this much we do know: Any discovery that touches upon human creation is not simply a matter of scientific inquiry, it is a matter of morality and spirituality as well."

Members of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission are expected to report back to the president this spring.

However, the president's action appeared to have more psychological impact than immediate scientific significance.

The National Institutes of Health, which provides the bulk of research money to U.S. scientists, does not support any research projects involving human cloning.

As part of the 1996-1997 legislation reauthorizing NIH, Congress prohibited federally funded human embryo research.

Also, in 1994, Clinton banned the use of federal money to support the creation of human embryos solely for research purposes.

Clinton said the purpose of his action yesterday was to close any possible loopholes in existing policy that might still allow research on human cloning to go forward.

The order does not affect animal cloning research.

"My own view is that human cloning would have to raise deep concerns, given our most cherished concepts of faith and humanity," Clinton said.

"Each human life is unique, born of a miracle that reaches beyond laboratory science," he said as he issued the executive directive.

"I believe we must respect this profound gift and resist the temptation to replicate ourselves," he said. "At the very least, however, we should all agree that we need a better understanding of the scope and implications of this most recent breakthrough."

Long the grist of science fiction and a distinctly distant future, the idea of cloning human beings abruptly seemed more plausible last week, when Scottish scientist Ian Wilmut announced that he had succeeded in cloning a lamb named Dolly who since has grown into a healthy adult.

Several days later, it was revealed that scientists in Oregon had performed a similar cloning of two rhesus monkeys, a species much closer to that of humans.

Cloning is the production of an exact genetic duplicate of a living organism. In normal sexual reproduction, an egg and a sperm -- each containing half the genetic complement of an adult -- fuse, combining their DNA to produce the complete genetic blueprint of a third person.

In cloning, however, all of the genetic material comes from one parent, and the offspring is genetically identical to that parent.

NIH Director Harold Varmus said yesterday that the president "was trying to provide some reassurance to the public that federal monies are not being used to do specific cloning of human beings," thus allowing the commission "time to think things through."

"This should calm peoples' fears about those nightmarish possibilities that are extremely unlikely, and get them to focus on the real dilemmas," he added.

Art Caplan, director of the center for bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed, calling Clinton's move a sensible approach to a volatile issue.

Clinton's move did not seem to provoke the usual tension that results when a politician intervenes in scientific matters -- further indication, perhaps, of the widespread recognition that cloning research is a moral minefield.

Nevertheless, embryology experts speculated that one or more researchers at in vitro fertilization, or IVF, clinics might already be engaged in some form of exploratory research, although none would comment on this publicly.

IVF clinics receive little, if any, federal funding.

Other experts predicted a long-term ban could prompt some U.S. researchers to move that element of their research abroad.

For all his caveats, however, Clinton agreed yesterday with numerous experts who have said that the Scottish sheep cloning held the potential for stunning benefits in medical applications, food production, and even the saving of endangered species.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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