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Senate Subcommittee Examines Human Cloning

On March 12, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education held a hearing on human cloning. Presiding Chair Arlen Specter (R-PA) opened the hearing by remarking that since 1998, the Senate has held 12 hearings on cloning. Recently, Sen. Specter introduced legislation (S. 1893) that would ban human cloning, while protecting stem cell research.

There are two types of cloning–reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. Reproductive cloning involves the development of a complete 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.

Testifying in support of therapeutic cloning, former Sen. Connie Mack (R-FL) said the “idea that Congress would make criminals of researchers pursuing cures for diseases that kill our loved ones is almost unimaginable.”

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI), a cosponsor of House-passed legislation (H.R. 2505) that would ban all forms of human cloning, spoke in support of S. 1899, a similar bill sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS). He stressed that the “need for action is clear,” and added, “The human race is not open for experimentation and manufacture at any level, even the embryonic level.”

Dr. Gerald Fischbach of Columbia University advocated a total ban on reproductive cloning but noted that a ban on therapeutic cloning “would deny Americans access to treatments for some of the most debilitating diseases known to medicine.” He said, “If a cure or treatment for Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease were developed in another country using nuclear transplantation, Americans could be alone in being unable to take advantage of that treatment.”

Recommending a moratorium on human cloning, Dr. Silviu Itescu of Presbyterian Hospital in New York said that it would “prevent hasty and premature experimentation in human subjects.” He added that a moratorium would provide time to “define which particular diseases are best treated by adult stem cells and which by embryonic stem cells.” Dr. Itescu also stressed that it would “enable close scrutiny of advances in these fields.”

Actor Kevin Kline testified on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, asking the subcommittee to “not deny the rest of us our access to the best medical technology available.” He added, “There is no moral high ground in letting people suffer and die in staggering numbers because of a fear of something that no one wants: human reproductive cloning.”

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