National Academy of Sciences Urges Ban on Human [Reproductive] Cloning
January 18, 2002; Washington, D.C. (AP and CNN) - The National Academy of Sciences recommended Friday that human reproductive cloning -- cloning to create a baby -- be legally banned. "Human reproductive cloning should not now be practiced. It is dangerous and likely to fail," Dr. Irving Weissman, the Chairman of the panel that made the recommendation, said while presenting the findings at a news conference.
Despite these misgivings, the panel said the issue of human reproductive cloning should be revisited in five years if a medical and scientific review suggests techniques may be safer, and if there is a public consensus that a review is warranted. While the panel called for human cloning to be banned, it said that ban should not extend to the Nuclear Transfer Technique -- cloning embryos for the purpose of extracting stem cells for the treatment of disease, "because of its considerable potential for developing new medical therapies for life-threatening diseases." The group cited an earlier Academy of Sciences report that also supported this technique -- also called therapeutic cloning for stem-cell research.
Dr. Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences, said the group decided to tackle the subject of human reproductive cloning to help inform public debate on the issue. He said the panel looked only at medical and scientific aspects of cloning, including protection of human subjects; it did not consider the ethical or moral implications of the research.
In a Friday news conference, Weissman explained that the panel had consulted experts in animal cloning, assisted reproductive technologies, medical and legal policy, and groups who want to clone a human, before coming to its conclusions.
It focused, he said, on the safety of the woman carrying the clone, the safety of the baby, and the risk to the egg donor. Data from animal studies show that there are serious risks to the mother, and that many cloned animals die or have severe abnormalities.
The rate of animal cloning successes, said panelist Dr. Mark Siegler, is "astonishingly low." "There's no reason to believe that if carried out on human cells that [cloning] would be successful," he said. Behavioral abnormalities are another concern, said panelist Dr. Maxine Singer. There is no animal data to determine whether clones might have behavioral problems, which would be of serious concern in any human cloning attempt. To be considered safe, the panel said, "cloning techniques must be improved so that the rate of abnormalities in the fetus is no more than that seen with assisted reproductive technologies such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)."
In addition, tests would have to be developed to show that the embryos to be implanted are normal, and tests must be developed to monitor the fetus in utero for cloning-related defects. Groups that say they are working to clone a human "now lack the fundamental biological knowledge to do so," the panel said. "They also have not demonstrated the safety of animal cloning nor developed appropriate testing methods to assure safety."
Endorses Cloning to Create Stem Cells
Medicine: The Influential National Academy of Sciences Says Producing Human Clones Should Be Illegal
Megan Garvey and Richard T. Cooper,
Staff Writers for the The Los Angeles Times
January 19, 2002; Washington, D.C. ( LA Times) -- Cloning to reproduce humans is currently unsafe and should be illegal, but cloning to produce stem cells for medical research has "considerable potential" and should be permitted, a National Academy of Sciences panel said Friday. The recommendation by some of the nation's top scientists could prove influential as senators, many of whom are undecided on human cloning, prepare to debate whether to join the House in banning the technique for any purpose.
Most lawmakers want to ban cloning as a way to produce children, but a moral and political debate has flared over its use in the hunt for disease cures. President Bush continues to favor a total ban on human cloning, his spokesman said Friday. "As the president has stated, 'We should not, as a society, grow life to destroy it,' " said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. He said the President "looks at these issues from a scientific and moral standpoint."
As the Academy released its report, based strictly on scientific considerations, the President's Council on Bioethics, created last Summer to weigh the moral implications of new biotechnologies, was meeting to consider possible restrictions on embryonic cloning. Council Chairman Leon R. Kass, a University of Chicago bioethicist, said he "would circulate the Academy report to members of his panel and invite representatives to discuss it with the council." Compared to reproductive cloning, Kass said, "therapeutic cloning is a much more complicated issue" in moral terms, in part because of its potential for preserving life and alleviating suffering."
The National Academy of Sciences report was embraced by advocates for sufferers of diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes, which many hope will prove susceptible to treatments developed from stem cells derived from cloned embryos. The broadest patient advocacy group said the recommendations from the academy "could not have come at a better time." "We feel strongly that the American public would support biomedical research using [therapeutic cloning] to produce lifesaving embryonic stem cells if they are given a chance to fully understand the differences from reproductive cloning," said Michael Manganiello, President of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research.
Cloning Opponents, by Contrast, Blasted the Scientists' Recommendations
"It is deeply disturbing that the National Academy of Sciences feels they can divide humanity into two different classes and condemn one class of humans to destruction creating a human embryo for the express purpose of destroying it," said Sen. Sam Brownback (R- KA), a leading opponent of cloning research. The issue of human cloning, which has prompted references in Congress to "Frankenstein" scenarios, has proved extremely sensitive for lawmakers and scientists alike. In Friday's report, the Academy panel referred to cloning for research purposes not as " therapeutic cloning" but as "Nuclear Transplantation to Produce Stem Cells."
Douglas Johnson, the Legislative Director for the National Right to Life Committee, called the language shift a "smoke screen of euphemisms." "The word games are disturbing," Johnson said. "It's clear that what these scientists want is to permit these labs to mass-produce human embryos for the purpose of killing them."
Proponents of therapeutic cloning argue that it could be permitted without a "slippery slope" to the creation of a cloned human baby occurring. Daniel Perry, Head of the Alliance for Aging Research, predicted the Academy analysis would "have a tremendous impact on shaping the terms of debate: whether Americans are prepared to take the unprecedented step of imposing criminal penalties on researchers who are trying to find treatments for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's."
In cloning, scientists remove the DNA from an egg and replace it with genetic material from another person the procedure referred to as nuclear transplantation. The result is an embryo with the genetic makeup of only one parent instead of a combination of two. Some researchers say the ability to produce genetically identical stem cells cells in the earliest form of development that still have the potential to become any part of the body has great potential. An organ that could be grown using a individual's own genetic material would not be rejected as a foreign object, a common problem in transplant surgeries. Still, scientists caution that research is far from that stage, and cloning opponents argue that advances can be made in science using stem cells derived from sources other than cloning.
The National Academy of Sciences report said any ban on reproductive human cloning should be reviewed within five years, if new science indicates the procedure would be safe and a national dialogue on the "societal, religious and ethical issues" warrants reconsideration. One "potential benefit" of reproductive cloning, the Report said, "is that it offers one solution for complete infertility."
The President's Bioethics Committee, meeting for the second time Friday, took up the question of when scientific exploration should be restricted. Council member Janet Rowley, whose pioneering research on chromosomes led to advances in leukemia treatment, said "more research is needed before restrictions can be seriously considered." "We are asked to make judgments without the most basic information necessary to make an informed judgment," she said. "The question of how important this may be for medicine is very much unresolved. So it is extremely important that we not erect barriers to American scientists exploring it." In her own work, she said, it took about 30 years for her discoveries about chromosomes to be translated into effective treatment. "We cannot be impatient about this."
Some members argued, however, that as a practical matter it would be impossible to prevent embryos created for research from being used to produce cloned babies. "The path from therapeutic cloning to reproductive cloning is clear and I think inevitable," said Charles Krauthammer, a Council Member and columnist for The Washington Post.
And Stanford biologist William B. Hurlbut said, "There are many good scientific reasons to do stem cell research. The morality of it is a different question."
National Science Panel Says Cloning Ban Should Not Extend to Disease Treatment
January 18, 2002; Washington, D.C. (AP and WSJ) "Cloning human beings for the purpose of reproduction is medically unsafe and should be banned," a National Academy of Sciences panel said Friday. But the panel said " the ban shouldn't extend to cloning used to treat medical diseases," putting itself at odds with a bill passed by the House and supported by President Bush. The scientific report comes as a newly installed panel of White House bioethics advisers are weighing the benefits of medical advances against the moral hazards of human cloning. Mr. Bush has challenged the ethics group to be the "conscience of the country."
"Human reproductive cloning should not now be practiced," the Academy's report said. "It is dangerous and likely to fail." Animal cloning has shown that "only a small percentage of attempts are successful; that many of the clones die during gestation, even in late stages; that newborn clones are often abnormal; and that the procedures may carry serious risks for the mother," the panel said.
Panel Advising Bush on Cloning, Other Ethical Issues Fills Roster (January17th)
However, the scientists said the ban shouldn't extend to cloning of embryos in order to extract stem cells that have the potential to treat life-threatening diseases. That practice is sometimes called therapeutic cloning to distinguish it from reproductive cloning.
Congress is now debating a cloning ban. Last year the House passed a ban that would include both reproductive and therapeutic cloning, but there is considerable sentiment in the Senate to limit the ban to only reproductive cloning. Mr. Bush supports a total cloning ban.
The science panel urged that the safety of reproductive cloning be re-evaluated every five years, but that the procedure be banned during that time. "The panel believes that no responsible scientists or physicians are likely to undertake to clone a human," the report said. "Nevertheless, no voluntary system that is established to restrict reproductive cloning is likely to be completely effective." The panel focused only on medical and scientific issues, saying it was leaving to others any discussion of the ethical, religious or social questions surrounding cloning.
Bioethics Council Takes Up Cloning Issue
Across town, the President's Council on Bioethics was diving into the details of human cloning. While none of the members spoke in favor of reproductive cloning to produce a child, several argued that the burden is on opponents to prove why it should be banned. For some, the issue is moral. "Once we have a human embryo we have a new human being who is a subject of rights and protection," said Prof. Robert George, a Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. But others disagreed. Dr. Daniel Foster, Chairman of Internal Medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, said he is much more concerned with the safety of cloning. "That alone is enough for now," he said. But for the embryo, "I don't know if that's life or pre-life?" he said.
Mr. Bush repeated his opposition to all human cloning Thursday but said the group can serve an important role in helping Americans understand the issue. "I have spoken clearly on cloning. I just don't think it's right," Mr. Bush told the Council, which met with him at the White House. "On the other hand, there is going to be a lot of nuance and subtlety to the issue, I presume. And I think this it is very important for you all to help the nation understand what this means."
Mr. Bush created the Council, a mix of ethicists, doctors, lawyers, and philosophers, after wrestling with whether to allow federal funding for research that used stem cells derived from embryos. He said he hopes the group will help as he faces similar balancing acts in the future. "I really think you can help be the conscience of the country," he said. Mr. Bush said it would help people like him understand how to come to grips with how medicine and science interface with the dignity of life and "the notion that... there is a Creator."
The 18-member council will examine stem-cell research, as well as euthanasia and assisted reproduction, typically In-Vitro Fertilization. To date, no one has cloned a human, which would be the genetic equivalent of a twin sibling born years later. But scientists have cloned several animals, and last Fall, researchers [at ACT of Worcester, MA] announced they had created a human embryo clone to provide stem cells for research.
The House has already passed a ban on human cloning, and the Senate may take up the issue as soon as this Spring. Council Chairman Leon Kass predicted the council may have a recommendation by Summer. "We are going to try and do a good job, rather than bend ourselves out of shape to influence the Senate debate," he said.
Court Ruling in the U.K.
Meanwhile, in London, an appeals court upheld cloning regulations passed by Parliament last year that made Britain the first country to specifically authorize human cloning. The decision, which focused on the legal definition of an embryo, overturned a High Court ruling that invalidated the government-sponsored legislation designed to regulate human cloning. In a global first, Parliament passed regulations in January 2001 under a 1990 act to permit cloning to create embryos for stem-cell research. However, producing cloned babies remained outlawed.
Antiabortion campaigners convinced a High Court judge in November that the 1990 act defined an embryo as being created only by the fertilization of an egg. That meant that an organism created by cloning is not an embryo as defined in law, and therefore not covered by the 1990 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act . That, in turn, meant that the Parliamentary vote was invalid. The Appeals Judges ruled Friday that "an embryo is an embryo, no matter whether it was created by fertilizing-an-egg-with-sperm or by cloning."