Senate Bill Introduced This Week Would Allow Research Cloning
February 7, 2003; Washington, D.C. As promised, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to ban human reproductive cloning but permit research cloning to develop therapies. "The Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act of 2003" (S. 303) was introduced Wednesday by Senators Orrin Hatch (R‑Utah), Dianne Feinstein (D‑Calif), Arlen Specter (R‑Penn), Edward M. Kennedy (D‑Mass), and Tom Harkin (D‑Iowa).
"Let's be very clear: human reproductive cloning is immoral and unethical. It must not be allowed under any circumstances," Feinstein said at a news conference Wednesday. "But at the same time, we must not prohibit nuclear transplantation research, which holds enormous promise for millions of Americans."
The Bill, which is similar to legislation the senators introduced last year, would make human reproductive cloning a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison and a fine of $1 million or three times any profits made (whichever is greater) for anyone who clones or attempts to clone a human being. But unlike stricter anti‑cloning measures introduced in the House and Senate last month, this Senate Bill would permit Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) techniques under strict Federal government regulations and oversight.
The Senate Bill enjoys wide support from the biomedical and research communities but is opposed by pro‑life politicians, including President Bush, and a number of religious and women's‑rights groups. However at Wednesday's hearing, Hatch, who generally supports right‑to‑life positions, read a letter from Nancy Reagan. The former first lady has decided to support therapeutic cloning, Hatch said, “because of its potential to cure many diseases, including Alzheimer's, which afflicts her husband, the former president.” "I'm writing, therefore, to offer my support for stem cell research and to tell you I'm in favor of new legislation to allow the ethical use of therapeutic cloning," Nancy Reagan wrote. "Like you, I support a complete ban on reproductive cloning. However, I believe that embryonic stem-cell research, under appropriate guidelines, may provide our scientists with many answers that are now beyond our grasp."
Prof. David Baltimore, the Nobel Prize‑winning biologist and President of the California Institute of Technology, came to Washington to support the legislation in person. "This is a very appropriate Bill because it bans something that everyone considers unsafe and it allows medical research to go forward for serious diseases," he told The Scientist. "There is a lot of work ahead of us and what we need is support, not interference. These senators deserve support."
The Bill includes a number of ethical and legal regulations involving SCNT research. Among them, it mandates that eggs used in research be unfertilized and obtained with voluntary consent; prohibits any research on an egg cell after 14 days, when cell differentiation begins; prohibits the purchase or sale of unfertilized eggs to prevent "embryo farms" and requires nuclear transfer to occur in labs separate from facilities involved in in‑vitro fertilization.
"This bipartisan Bill sends an unequivocal message that unsafe and irresponsible experiments to produce cloned babies will not be tolerated," said Steven L. Teitelbaum, President of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), in a statement. "It removes political roadblocks that are impeding scientific discovery in one of the most promising new fields of medical research while setting appropriate ethical standards."
The Bill is "a thoughtful piece of legislation that strikes a careful balance between banning an unsafe and unethical application of technology while allowing critical scientific research to continue," added Michael Werner, Vice President for Bioethics at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).
"Clearly there is a broad consensus amongst the American public and in Congress to ban reproductive cloning," said Michael Manganiello, President of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR). "But those wishing to tie a ban on life‑saving medical research, such as therapeutic cloning, together with a ban on reproductive cloning are holding up the process and it's time to act now."
Hatch said he decided "after much study, reflection, and prayer, that human life requires and begins in a mother's womb... As a Right‑to‑Life Senator, I believe that a critical part of a pro‑life, pro‑family philosophy is helping the living."
Last week, Sen. Sam Brownback ( R ‑ Kan) introduced legislation (S 245) that would ban all forms of human cloning, including SCNT for medical research. Brownback's Bill mirrored one reintroduced in the House earlier in the month by Florida Republican Dave Weldon (HR 234). Weldon's original Bill had passed the House in July 2001 by a wide margin; Brownback's Bill was not brought up for consideration during the last legislative session.
Links for this article:
1. T. Agres, "Cloning Crackdown?" The Scientist (January 3, 2003); Biomedcentral.com/news .
2. E. Russo, "Cloning Steps Sideways," The Scientist (June 13, 2002); Biomedcentral.com/news.
3. E. Russo, "Clone Hearings Continue" The Scientist (January 30, 2003); biomedcentral.com/news .
4. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena www.caltech.edu.
5. The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology faseb.org.
6. The Biotechnology Industry Organization bio.org .
7. The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research stemcellfunding.org .