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Rival Cloning Bills Introduced in Congress

Feb 5, 2003

A debate over cloning returned to Congress on Wednesday with the introduction of a bill in the Senate that would outlaw cloning for reproductive purposes, while promoting its use for medical research.

The bill, backed by a diverse group of conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, is a direct rival to one offered last week by a separate coalition that would ban all any cloning involving human embryos.

The bills closely resembled competing bills that never progressed to a Senate vote in 2002. The House passed a comprehensive anti-cloning bill in 2001.

As they often did last year, each group held news conferences on Wednesday to put forward their views.

The less restrictive bill, sponsored by senators such as Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy, bans all cloning for reproductive purposes. Under the bill, such cloning is considered a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, with a fine of at least $1 million.

But the bill, backed by many scientists including a coalition of 40 Nobel prizewinners, as well as patient advocacy groups, would allow the use of cloning for therapeutic purposes.

The other bill, introduced by Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu and others a week ago, would ban both types of cloning. Its backers include anti-abortion groups and former US surgeon-general Dr. C. Everett Koop.

"All cloning is reproductive. By that I mean all human cloning produces another human life," Brownback said in a statement.

President Bush also supports a total ban on human cloning and called for it again in last week's State of the Union address.

The cloning issue has taken on new urgency with the recent claim by a group affiliated with the Raelian religious sect that its scientists have cloned three human babies. The group, Clonaid, has produced no proof of its claim.

But the highly publicized claims have many worried that human cloning is proceeding in secret, and that therapeutic cloning may be ongoing without safeguards.

"It is essential that we pass legislation that will allow this exciting research to proceed and to ensure that it is subject to appropriate and ethical oversight," Dr. Sandra Carson, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which supports the Hatch bill, said in a statement.

© 2003 Reuters Ltd