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House Subcommittee Examines Human Cloning

On May 15, the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources held a hearing on ethics and cloning. Last year, the House passed legislation (H.R. 2505) that would ban all forms of human cloning; however, the Senate has yet to consider a similar bill.

There are two types of cloning—reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. Reproductive cloning involves the creation of an individual from a single body cell, such as the creation of the sheep Dolly. Therapeutic cloning creates embryonic stem cells that are genetic matches to the patient for the purpose of repairing damaged and diseased tissue.

Dr. Bryan Cowan of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) spoke of his concern that “much of the proposed legislation…simply goes too far.” He added that therapeutic cloning “holds tremendous promise,” and it may allow us to “unlock cures” for such conditions as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and spinal cord injury.

Dr. Cowan also pointed out that ASRM has developed a “strict set of guidelines on how to go about with egg donation, and how to protect egg donors.” He said, “There is no reason these standards could not be applied to any eggs used for somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) research.”

In her testimony, Elizabeth Howard of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, explained that her daughter is afflicted with Rett Syndrome and is therefore unable to walk or talk. She said that her daughter “compels [her] to push for advances in science—like SCNT—that hold promise to protect her from the many dreadful manifestations of Rett Syndrome.” Ms. Howard added that the advances in medical technology could mean that future generations afflicted by similar disorders “might never have to endure what this current generation has suffered through.”

Another witness, James Kelly, spoke in support of therapeutic cloning. Mr. Kelly explained that he is paralyzed below the chest because of a 1997 spinal cord injury and said that his only priority is for millions of people, including himself, be able to “regain lost mental or physical functions as quickly as possible.”

Judy Norsigian of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective said that although she supports embryonic stem cell research, a moratorium on all human embryo cloning is necessary. She spoke in support of obtaining stem cells from embryos stored at in vitro fertilization clinics that would otherwise be destroyed, but objected to the use of stem cells derived from cloned embryos.

According to Ms. Norsigian, experiments with human embryo cloning would lead to the “development of germline genetic modifications, including modifications that go far beyond the realm of curing diseases into the world of so-called ‘designer babies.’” Ms. Norsigian also expressed her concern that Lupron, the drug used to “hyper-stimulate” the ovaries in the process of gathering eggs for somatic cell nuclear transfer, would pose “substantial risks to women’s health.” She noted that the FDA received 4,228 reports of women having adverse side effects from Lupron. Of these reports, 325 women were hospitalized and twenty-five deaths were reported.

Speaking in support of reproductive cloning, Dr. Panayiotis Zavos of the Andrology Institute of America said, “Humans will be produced via reproductive regeneration. Recent scientific and technological progress demonstrates that very clearly.” He added, “Similar to in vitro fertilization, the technology of reproductive regeneration will advance, techniques will be improved, and knowledge will be gained…and in the end, the answer to the debate over human nature may be simply that man’s nature is the product of his own will.”

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