WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) Dec 03 - The US Senate on Monday rejected a plan to impose a 6-month moratorium on human embryo cloning.
The measure would have authorized $1 million in fines and up to 10 years of jail time for anyone who cloned or attempted to clone a human embryo. Penalties also would have been extended to any person caught shipping or importing cloned embryos or products derived from them.
The amendment, brought by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), was defeated 1-94 on a procedural vote that would have required 60 votes to pass. The lopsided vote does not reflect many Senators' attitudes about cloning, since a twist in the Senate procedure actually caused many members who are in favor of a ban to vote against it. The cloning issue was tied to another contentious amendment that called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
It was Brownback's second attempt in a week to restrict human cloning. Senate Democrats prevented a vote last Tuesday on a permanent ban identical to one passed by the House over the summer. Leaders at the time explained that most Senators were uneducated about the intricacies of human cloning and needed more time to consider the issue.
Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), a physician and supporter of the ban, spent part of last week briefing colleagues on the details of the cloning process, a Republican Senate aide told Reuters Health. Frist said in a statement that a ban is needed to protect the health of women and to prevent the creation of embryos solely for research purposes.
"Until the Senate is able to comprehensively examine the issue next year, this moratorium is critical so that no harm is done in the meantime," Frist said.
Both the permanent and temporary bans would have outlawed a cloning process called somatic cell nuclear transfer — the same one used by researchers at Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. (ACT), to perform the human clone experiments announced by the company last week.
No lawmaker has voiced support for reproductive cloning, but many policy makers want to permit 'therapeutic cloning' intended to create a diverse source of stem cells for research into new disease cures.
Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) asked his colleagues to register "a resounding vote to make sure we don't go forward" with the moratorium. "I am in favor of therapeutic cloning...so that [scientists] can do the stem cell research unfettered," he said.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation issued a statement saying that it opposes a permanent ban on therapeutic cloning. The statement urged Congress and the Bush administration to come up with guidelines that would ensure research that "adheres to appropriate scientific and ethical guidelines."
Cloning opponents have vowed to continue raising the issue in the Senate, citing support for a ban from both the House and President Bush. Democratic leaders promised several weeks ago to revisit the cloning issue next year along with a measure designed to expand federal investment in embryonic stem cell research.
Both Brownback and ACT chief Dr. Michael West are scheduled to appear tomorrow before a Senate committee to testify on human cloning. Meanwhile, the procedural vote on Monday nearly guaranteed that the cloning was slated to return to the Senate's agenda soon.
"These issues are not going to go
away," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS).
Copyright © 2001 Reuters Ltd
Copyright © 2001 Reuters Ltd