By Todd Zwillich
A divided House Judiciary Committee approved a bill banning human cloning Wednesday, clearing the way for the US House of Representatives to once again vote on the prohibition.
The measure, passed out of the committee with a party-line vote, is identical to one passed by House lawmakers last year. Republicans Wednesday unanimously supported the bill's universal ban on cloning, while Democrats opposed it in favor of exceptions allowing for cloning used in biomedical research.
The bill bans somatic cell nuclear transplantation. Supporters of the ban worry that resulting embryos could be implanted and allowed to grow into a cloned child. Many also said that they oppose research that produces human embryos for the purpose of destroying them during research.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) urged the committee to support the ban to preserve respect for "nascent human life."
The ban would impose penalties of 10 years in prison and $1,000,000 or more in fines for anyone who participates in the production of a cloned human embryo or imports clones or medical treatments derived from human cloning technology.
For some scientists and disease research advocates, cloned embryos represent a potential source of human stem cells that could be used to develop treatments for degenerative diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis.
Judiciary committee Democrats offered several amendments banning cloning intended to produce cloned babies but carving out an exception for disease research using cloned embryos.
"I think it's important that we do not become the scientific backwater of the world because we've established a theocracy here," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
Republicans rejected the exception, saying that it would be impossible to enforce a cloning ban unless all human clones were outlawed. "In order to prevent cloned children we need to completely prevent cloned embryos," said Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC).
Democrats also tried unsuccessfully to repeal a part of bill barring the importation from overseas of medical treatments developed using cloning techniques, saying it would unfairly keep some US citizens from using potentially life-saving treatments.
"Only those wealthy enough to travel there and pay for the product can be saved," said Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-CA)
Committee Chair James F. Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said that the full House could vote on the cloning ban as early as the end of February.
The Senate is also considering two bills, one banning all cloning and
one permitting its use in medical research. Neither approach garnered enough
votes to overcome a 60-vote threshold in the Senate last year.
© 2003 Reuters Ltd