Ads paint new image for cloning

Those opposed to a ban stress medical benefits of cells from lab embryos

April 25, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - A cluster of Hollywood movie moguls injected themselves into the debate over cloning and are trying to re-engineer the public's image of the word at the center of the argument.

Jerry Zucker, creator of such comedies as Airplane and Naked Gun, directed a TV ad that started airing last night featuring a couple named Harry and Louise chatting at their kitchen table about the potential benefits of cloning for medical research.

But with a Senate vote on a proposed ban on cloning drawing near, Zucker's group tiptoes around the word "cloning," which critics say has a "yuck factor" because it conjures up images of cloned human babies, which Zucker's group opposes.

"Is it cloning?" Harry asks Louise in the ad unveiled during a news conference yesterday. The same couple appeared in a 1992 insurance industry ad campaign attacking Hillary Clinton's health-care reform proposal.

"Nooooo ... uses an unfertilized egg and a skin cell," Louise replies.

"So, not making babies?" Harry asks.

"Just lifesaving cures," Louise says.

Zucker's organization, called "Cures Now," prefers the term "somatic cell nuclear transfer" (SCNT) to describe what most scientists call therapeutic cloning.

This is the transfer of a nucleus from a donor's skin cell into a woman's unfertilized egg to create a cloned human embryo, which researchers destroy while harvesting highly adaptable interior cells.

Scientists want to use these so-called stem cells to create replacement nerve and organ tissue that would be genetically identical to the donor's body, so that it won't be rejected.

They hope this technique will lead to cures for such diseases as diabetes, Alzheimer's and cancer.

The ad criticizes a bill proposed by Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas - and endorsed by President Bush - that would outlaw all cloning, whether intended for research or the creation of human babies.

The host of yesterday's event was Zucker's wife, Janet, also a movie producer, who explained that she opposes a cloning ban because her 14-year-old daughter has juvenile diabetes.

She said she hopes "nuclear-transfer" research could one day lead to a cure for diabetes and several other diseases.

On the lawn outside the Capitol about two hours later, supporters of the proposed ban - including Brownback - held a rival news conference to protest claims made in the Zucker ad.

The composition of the opposing camps suggests the strange political bedfellows that have found each other during the debate over cloning.

Zucker's group falls into an alliance with liberal Democrats, including Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, many libertarians, Jewish leaders, biotechnology firms and medical researchers, including Nobel Prize winner Dr. David Baltimore.

Brownback, whose proposed ban is supported by many conservative Christians and environmentalists, stood at the podium yesterday with Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, and Dr. Dave Weldon, a Republican congressman from Florida with a background in genetics research.

Brownback said that Americans would not be fooled by the Zucker group's attempt to rename therapeutic cloning to make it sound more palatable.

"Cloning is cloning is cloning," said Brownback. "It's the same process used to create Dolly the sheep.

"We don't want it ever used to create humans."

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