A moratorium is a setback

July 16, 2002

THE DECISION last week by a presidential advisory panel to recommend a moratorium on cloning for research purposes - instead of an outright ban - sounds reasonable considering the controversy surrounding this technique. But a closer look at the vote by the President's Council on Bioethics suggests that cloning opponents are simply laying the groundwork for an eventual ban.

And, if that is indeed true, than then the council's recommendation should be considered for what it is: the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. A majority of the 17-member 18-member panel is evenly divided on the use of cloning to discover treatments and cures for diseases. All oppose cloning to recreate a human being.

Seven members stated that cloning "can never be ethically pursued" - never. Seven others believe cloning a human embryo for therapeutic research should proceed under government regulation and oversight.

Recognizing that they didn't have the votes for an all-out ban, cloning opponents on the panel voted with three members who favored a four-year moratorium. The panel's recommendation comes as the U.S. Senate is considering legislation that would ban human cloning for any purpose. The House passed a similar bill.

Scientists and patient advocates who support cloning for medical research fear the presidential council's action will boost efforts for a two-year moratorium proposed by a leading cloning opponent in the Senate, Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas.

The council's 10-7 vote (one member who failed to attend most meetings took no position) should not be perceived as anything other than a delaying tactic by cloning opponents, who concede that they need more time to make their case "in a democratic way." President Bush is against all human cloning experiments.

To forbid scientists from cloning human cells for medical research - the kind of research at which the American biomedical community excels - would stop for one, two, three, possibly four years. A moratorium here won't keep that important scientific study and research from being done in France, England, Germany or elsewhere. It will only thwart American efforts to discover potentially life-saving treatments and cures.

This is an emotional and ethically charged issue. The research would involve not cells from a sheep or a monkey or a mouse, but from a human being. And that demands adoption of strict regulation and rigorous oversight to protect against the misuse and abuse of, perhaps, our most valuable human resource.

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