More MS news articles for Dec 2001

Senate poised to vote on cloning ban after weekend

By Todd Zwillich

WASHINGTON, Nov 30 (Reuters Health) - Gearing up for a Senate vote next week, opponents of human cloning on Friday pushed lawmakers to outlaw all forms of the practice in the United States.

Religious groups and others lobbied Capitol Hill asking Senators to support a measure designed to prohibit all human cloning whether for reproductive or therapeutic medical research purposes. The House of Representatives already passed an identical ban over the summer with the support of President George W. Bush.

"It doesn't matter for what purpose cloning was accomplished," said William Saunders, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council. "The research is lethal for the subject and is not therapeutic at all."

The Senate is due to vote on Monday on an amendment calling for a 6-month cloning moratorium. It will be the second effort in a week by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) to curb cloning in the wake of last Sunday's announcement by Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technologies, Inc. that the firm had produced a few cloned human embryos.

The ban would prohibit the use of a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, in which DNA from a skin cell or other body cell is inserted in a human egg. If the resulting embryo is allowed to develop and is implanted in a surrogate mother's uterus, it would produce an exact genetic copy of the person who donated the body cell--a process known as reproductive cloning.

Supporters of the technology say that the technique may also be useful for "therapeutic cloning," in which scientists collect stem cells from a developing embryo and use them to replace dead or dying cells in a patient. In theory, such cells would be genetically identical to the patient, and thus less likely to be rejected by the patient's immune system. In this case, the embryo would be destroyed by the stem cell collection procedure.

Many researchers believe that stem cells hold promise to treat diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer's disease.

The temporary ban is another attempt by Brownback to get the Senate to act on the issue, which it refused to do immediately after the company's announcement. The amendment faces an especially difficult road because of Senate rules that will require 60 votes for its passage instead of the usual 50.

Most Democrats and a handful of Republicans oppose the ban. Brownback acknowledged in an interview that the moratorium would be difficult to pass, especially because it will be tied to controversial energy legislation that would allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

"I think if we had a clean shot at it"--instead of needing 60 votes--"we would get the votes we need," he said.

Sen. James Jeffords, a Vermont Independent and member of the Senate committee that deals with healthcare legislation, said that he would vote against the moratorium.

"I think it's important that research goes forward. We have to work with researchers to set up guidelines and standards" instead of banning cloning, he told Reuters Health.

Still, supporters of the ban vowed to keep their pressure up through Monday and in the months to come. Senate leaders have promised votes early next year on both a human cloning ban and on measures designed to expand federal authority to fund embryonic stem cell research.

Regardless of Monday's result on the cloning issue, "It's going to be back and back and back," Jeffords said.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited