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House Votes to Ban Human Cloning

Several hours of heated debate led to the passage of a bill (H.R. 2505) to prohibit human cloning. The House on July 31 voted, 265-162, to pass the bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL). H.R. 2505 would create criminal and civil penalties for any individual or entity that performs or attempts to perform human cloning. The bill would prohibit individuals or entities from shipping or receiving the product of human cloning. The bill also 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.

While all Members expressed their opposition to human cloning for reproductive purposes, there was widespread disagreement over whether cloning technology should be permitted for research purposes.

“As we stand on the brink of finding the cures to diseases that have plagued so many, so many millions of Americans, unfortunately, the Congress today in my view is on the brink of prohibiting this critical research,” stated Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA).

“I have treated patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, diabetes. My father had diabetes. To hold out reproductive cloning as a solution to these problems is pie in the sky,” stated Rep. Weldon, adding: “The threshold we are being asked to cross is no longer just using the embryos that are in the IVF clinics but actually creating embryos for destructive research service.”

During the debate, the House approved, by voice vote, an amendment by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) that would direct the General Accounting Office to study whether the prohibition on human cloning should be amended four years after the date of enactment. The study shall include “a discussion of new developments in medical technology concerning human cloning and somatic cell nuclear transfer, the need (if any) for somatic cell nuclear transfer to produce medical advances, current public attitudes and prevailing ethical views concerning the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer, and potential legal implications of research in somatic cell nuclear transfer.”

Rep. Scott stated, “The developments in stem cell research are proceeding at a very rapid pace; and it is difficult for Congress, which moves very slowly, to take them into account. This amendment would keep Congress informed of the changes in technology and its potential for medical advance. It would also keep us advised of any need for technical changes to the bill to keep its prohibition on cloning effective and narrowly drawn.” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) agreed to the amendment, calling it “extremely constructive.”

The House defeated, 178-249, a substitute amendment offered by Rep. James Greenwood (R-PA). The substitute, based on a bill (H.R. 2172) sponsored by Rep. Greenwood, would have prohibited the use of cloning technology “with the intent to initiate a pregnancy.” It also would have made it unlawful to ship or transport the product of human cloning if the product was intended to be used to initiate a pregnancy.

The substitute would have required individuals using cloning technology for research purposes to register with the Department of Health and Human Services and would have established criminal and civil penalties for violating the ban. Under the substitute, the ban would have sunset ten years after enactment, and the Institute of Medicine would have been required to study “the current state of knowledge about” the biological properties and differences of stem cells “obtained from embryos, fetal tissues, and adult tissues.”

Arguing in support of his amendment, Rep. Greenwood stated, “This is not a question about who has values and who stands for human life and who does not. It is a very legitimate and important and historic debate about how it is that we are able to use the DNA that God put into our own bodies, use the brain that God gave us to think creatively, and to employ this research to save the lives of men, women and children in this country and throughout the world and to rescue them from terribly debilitating and life-shortening diseases.” He continued, “We have an extraordinary opportunity to do this with the research technique that does not involve conception.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) opposed the amendment, saying, “The real issue before us is the simple but highly profound issue of whether or not it will be legally permissible to create human life for research purposes.”

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) agreed, “The need for action is clear. A cult has publicly announced its intention to begin human cloning for profit. Research firms have announced their intentions to clone embryos for research purposes and then discard what is not needed. Whatever your beliefs, pro-life, pro-choice, Democrat or Republican, the fact is embryos are the building blocks of human life and human life itself.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) countered, “Where we see scientific opportunity and based on high ethical standards, I believe we have a moral responsibility to have the science proceed, again under the highest ethical standards.”

The House also defeated, 175-251, a motion to recommit, offered by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). The motion would have amended the bill to allow the use of “human somatic cell nuclear transfer in connection with the development or application of treatments designed to address Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, severe burns, or other diseases, disorders, or conditions, provided that the product of such use is not utilized to initiate a pregnancy and is not intended to be utilized to initiate a pregnancy.”

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