Bill to ban human cloning introduced in House

Measure likely to renew debate over technique's value for new treatments

January 09, 2003|By Robyn Suriano | Robyn Suriano,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE BILL — All human cloning would be banned under a bill introduced yesterday in Congress, touching off a new debate over whether to halt potentially promising research into treatments for many diseases.

The bill - sponsored in part by U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, a Florida Republican - would send people to jail and levy fines of up to $1 million for human cloning endeavors, whether the intent is to make a baby or to use the cloned embryos for research.

The total ban is expected to pass the U.S. House but stall in the Senate, where lawmakers oppose the technique for reproduction but remain divided over whether it could be used for research.

There are strong voices on both sides, setting up what is likely to be a pivotal debate on one of the newest and most controversial areas of medical experimentation.

"We're at the dawn of a new era of medicine," said Howard Gantman, a spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who supports the use of cloning techniques in medical studies.

"[Cloning for research] offers hope to millions of people with incurable diseases. It would be unconscionable to stop that research and dash the hopes of those people."

Similar bill last year

Weldon's bill is similar to a measure that passed the House easily last year. It does nothing to prohibit animal cloning, but bans any work with people.

Weldon, a physician and strong abortion opponent, believes that no form of human cloning is acceptable, especially when there is no proof that scientists can use cloned embryos to develop treatments.

Use of stem cells

The idea of so-called "therapeutic cloning" is to extract stem cells from the microscopic embryos and use those cells to treat a variety of diseases, including such debilitating conditions as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

"Therapeutic cloning is a theoretical concept that has not been demonstrated to work in even a rat or a mouse yet," Weldon said yesterday.

"To me, it's really dishonest for people to hold out the issue of therapeutic cloning when it's a hypothetical [possibility] at best."

The bill is likely to gain more attention in the snickering aftermath created by the Raelians, a UFO cult that recently claimed to have cloned two people. Their assertions have been widely debunked as a hoax, but some think the fear that such groups are working on human cloning could push Congress to act.

Little importance

Others think the Raelians will not have a much of an impact.

"You can't use them as the bogeyman in this debate any more," said Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "They've been totally discredited, so I don't think they matter.

"That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of sentiment out there to prohibit human cloning for reproduction, but I think there are powerful voices that still support cloning for research."

Robyn Suriano is a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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