United Press International- July 31, 2001
WASHINGTON, Jul 31, 2001 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The Bush administration's opposition to cloning experiments on embryos provides a clue to the administration's highly anticipated decision on whether to allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, according to one of the nation's leading bioethicists.
Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics, said Tuesday that the administration's support of a bill now being debated in Congress, which would ban the cloning of human beings and the creation of embryos for research, signals President Bush's decision on the issue of stem cell research funding.
"I think it means he is unlikely to support stem cell research," Caplan told United Press International.
On Monday the administration released a statement that said it was "strongly opposed to any legislation that would prohibit human cloning for reproductive purposes but permit the creation of cloned embryos for research." It went on to say that it would also "strongly oppose any substitute amendment" that would "permit human embryos to be created and developed solely for research purposes."
That statement cuts to the core of the stem cell research debate: the creation and use of embryos for research purposes. Caplan said Bush is likely to personally oppose the use of embryos in stem cell research, but may give Congress a free hand to fund projects without threat of veto.
It comes as the House of Representatives is set to vote on two bills -- H.R. 2505, sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., that would make cloning a federal crime, and a second less restrictive bill, H.R. 2608, sponsored by Rep. Jim Greenwood, R-Penn., that bans reproductive cloning but allows cloning for research.
The stem cell debate presents Bush with his most difficult decision since assuming the presidency, one that encompasses both moral and ethical considerations. It also blurs the once clearly drawn line on the abortion debate with many traditionally anti-abortion conservatives supporting embryonic stem cell research.
"The president opposes cloning of human beings. The president thinks that it is wrong and opposes it strongly," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer on Monday.
Bush must decide whether to allow federal funding for research on stem cells, the developmental building blocks that researchers think hold the key to a range of treatment and cures for ailments such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and diabetes.
Embryonic stem cells appear to have the ability to develop into the entire range of cellular tissues that make up the body. Scientists believe they can eventually use such stem cells to rebuild tissues damaged from diseases like Parkinson's, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, among others.
The administration and Congress would likely ban cloning -- the replication of a human or animal from its DNA -- for safety reasons. "No healthy subjects have ever been produced from the procedure," Caplan said. And allowing the procedure to be used on embryos strictly for research purposes would likely been seen as a backdoor to experimental cloning of a human being, he said.
Amid public outcry, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., banned studies using stem cells from aborted fetuses or human embryos in January 1999. But the Clinton administration in August said stem cells from frozen embryos slated for destruction at fertility clinics could be used for research.
Bush moved to block the research when he came into office by ordering a policy review of the Clinton administration's NIH guidelines. The White House also called off an NIH meeting to review applications for federal grants for stem cell research, effectively leaving the matter in limbo until Bush's final decision.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.