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House Subcommittee Examines Human Cloning

On June 20, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a second hearing on the prohibition of human cloning. Subcommittee Chair Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) opened the hearing saying, “Human cloning rises to the most essential question of who we are and what we might become if we open this Pandora’s Box.”

Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH) stated that it was not a question of whether to ban cloning but how best to ban cloning, adding: “Banning all science related to cloning would be ineffective…and would stifle research.”

The subcommittee heard testimony on two competing bills (H.R. 1644 and H.R. 2172). H.R. 1644, sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), would create criminal and civil penalties for any individual or entity that performs or attempts to perform human cloning. The bill also would prohibit individuals or entities from shipping or receiving the product of human cloning. H.R. 1644 includes a sense of Congress that the President should commission a study on whether cloning technology should be used to create human embryos solely for the purpose of research.

H.R. 2172, sponsored by Rep. James Greenwood (R-PA), would prohibit the use of cloning technology “with the intent to initiate a pregnancy.” It would also be unlawful to ship or transport the product of human cloning if the product is intended to be used to initiate a pregnancy. H.R. 2172 would require individuals using cloning technology for research purposes to register with the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill would establish criminal and civil penalties for violating the ban and would sunset ten years after enactment. H.R. 2172 also would require the Institute of Medicine to study “the current state of knowledge about” the biological properties and differences of stem cells “obtained from embryos, fetal tissues, and adult tissues.”

Claude Allen of the Department of Health and Human Services told the subcommittee that the administration opposes “the use of human somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning techniques either to assist human reproduction or to develop cell- or tissue-based therapies.” He added, “At the same time, we strongly support other approaches to development of these therapies, such as research with genes, cells, or tissues from humans or animals, consistent with current law.”

While Mr. Allen did not specifically endorse either bill, he expressed support for H.R. 1644, saying that the administration supported “the bill’s intent of banning human cloning, but believe[s] that it warrants further review to resolve some technical issues.” Adding that it was the administration’s position that cloning technology used both for reproductive purposes and scientific research purposes be banned, Mr. Allen said, “We think that it’s a fine line….It’s an easy leap from one to the other.”

Thomas Okarma of the Genron Corporation and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) testified in support of the use of cloning technology for scientific research purposes. He stated that “BIO opposes human reproductive cloning,” saying, “It is simply too dangerous technically and raises far too many ethical and social questions.” He added, “However, it is critical that in our enthusiasm to prevent reproductive cloning, we not ban vital research, turning wholly legitimate biomedical researchers into outlaws, and thus squelching the hope of relief for millions of suffering individuals.”

Dr. Leon Kass of the University of Chicago endorsed H.R. 1644 saying, “I believe that this bill offers us the best—indeed, the only—reasonable chance at preventing human reproductive cloning from happening.” Dr. Kass stated that H.R. 2172 did not go far enough and was flawed because it relied “on intent or on foreknowledge of someone else’s intent—hard matters to discern and verify.” He added, “The issue of human cloning is most emphatically not an issue of pro-life versus pro-choice. It is mainly about death and destruction, and it is not about a woman’s right to choose. It is only and emphatically about baby design and manufacture, the opening skirmish of a long battle against eugenics and against the post-human future.”

Dr. Stewart Newman of New York Medical College agreed, saying, “We have become convinced that if the construction of modified or cloned embryos is permitted there will be little standing in the way of using them for reproductive purposes.”

Dan Perry of the Alliance for Aging Research opposed reproductive cloning but said there is a “clear distinction between cloning for human reproductive purposes…and cloning cells for human therapeutic purposes.” Noting the effect of a broadly defined ban on research, Mr. Perry stated, “To threaten university scientists with massive fines and prison sentences would constitute a massive and unprecedented assault on research….There is ample time for policymakers, ethicists, scientists, and patient groups to discuss options that would prevent human cloning, but which would preserve promising health research.”

Judy Norsignian of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective also opposed cloning. “To allow the creation of human clones would open the door to treating our children like manufactured objects….Those who encourage human cloning appear oblivious to the enormous risks to women and children’s health.” She also told the subcommittee that cloning advocates are using the language of the reproductive rights movement. “This is a travesty. There is an immense difference between seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy and seeking to create a genetic duplicate human being. Our opposition to human cloning in no way diminishes our support for a woman’s right to safe, legal, and accessible contraception and abortion services.”

Ms. Norsignian added that her group also opposes the creation of cloned human embryos, saying, “To allow this procedure would make it all but impossible to enforce the ban on the creation of fully formed human clones.”

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