More MS news articles for Jan 2002

States Hurry to Block Plans to Clone Humans

January 17, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The first human clone has not yet been born and may never be. But Jim Kallinger is thinking ahead. The Florida state legislator last week filed a bill to give cloned children the right to sue the scientists who create them, seeking money to cover living expenses, medical costs and emotional damages.

In Wisconsin, sponsors of a broad anti-cloning bill claim support from 41 of the 99 members of the state Assembly. In Kentucky, a committee of the state House on Wednesday approved a bill to ban human cloning.

State anti-cloning bills, which are also on the agenda in California, Massachusetts, Colorado and elsewhere, are a measure of the broad national unease with the prospect of human cloning. But they also reflect another fear: that Congress will fail to act. There is strong support in Washington for a ban on cloning to produce children. But the House last year voted to bar it as a tool of disease research as well.

Some senators, by contrast, say a ban should not cover researchers who aim to produce cloned embryos for their stem cells--the medically valuable cells that may help cure a range of diseases.

With a Senate vote expected within weeks, a new bioethics advisory panel appointed by President Bush will put cloning at the top of its agenda when it holds its first meeting today. The White House announced the 17 members of the panel Wednesday. Although the council has no regulatory powers, its deliberations could influence Congress.

Still, some state officials fear that federal legislation may sink altogether. "I'd rather be safe than sorry. Who knows how long it will take Congress to push a law through?" said Kallinger, a Republican from the Orlando area.

"Who's to say there's not a cloned embryo in a womb somewhere in the country now, and a clone is going to be born?" he said. "I don't think we're looking at science fiction anymore."

Kentucky state Rep. Joseph Fischer, a Republican and sponsor of a measure to ban human cloning for any purpose, said Kentucky has to be prepared in case the courts rule that cloning is a matter for state and not federal regulation. Fischer noted that the Supreme Court has said Congress had no authority to ban guns near schools because the issue does not involve interstate commerce.

In Washington, conservative groups are trying to build pressure for a quick Senate vote on the House's broad cloning ban. Some are lobbying Bush to use his State of the Union address Jan. 29 to call on senators to pass the House measure.

A new anti-cloning group, led by Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard magazine, says it is trying to raise money for advertisements supporting the House's total ban. The ads would run in the states of undecided senators.

Prospects in the Senate are uncertain, in part because cloning is so new. "With most issues, there are well-established battle lines," said Kristol, whose group is called Stop Human Cloning. "People have well-defined points of view. But this is an issue of first impression in politics. . . . I think it's a very fluid situation."

Fourteen senators are sponsoring legislation to ban cloning completely. Violators would face jail terms of up to 10 years and fines of $1 million.

Ten senators have said they want to allow cloning in disease research and treatment, often called therapeutic cloning, while banning it to produce children. They include California's Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats.

The two sides may be irreconcilable.

Research and patient-advocacy groups envision a day when a patient would be cloned to produce an embryo, which would be dissected at about five days of age for its stem cells. The stem cells, in turn, would be grown into heart, brain or other tissue that matches the patient's genes exactly, avoiding the tissue rejection problems that are common in organ transplants.

Scientists face a variety of hurdles in creating a cloning-based cure for disease, but some are hopeful. "A ban on therapeutic cloning would delay the discovery of potentially life-saving treatments," said Chis Paladino of the National Health Council, which represents 120 patient advocacy groups and disease-related charities.

Opponents say it is wrong to allow scientists to create human life only to destroy it, even to help ailing patients.

Bush's new bioethics advisory council is led by Dr. Leon Kass, a doctor and bioethicist who favors a total ban on human cloning. They include an eminent political scientist from UCLA, professor emeritus James Q. Wilson.

Also on the panel are theologians, lawyers and scientists.

One prominent bioethicist, Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, said the panel includes "many smart people," but appears weighted toward a conservative view of cloning, stem cell research and other controversial elements of biotechnology.

"This president is pro-life, anti-cloning and anti-stem cell research, and this group will do nothing to shake up those views," Caplan said.

In the states, the legislative debate mirrors the division in Congress. Wisconsin lawmakers, for example, are considering three measures, including one that would totally ban cloning and one that would ban reproductive cloning but allow therapeutic cloning.

In California, home to many biotechnology companies, a ban on reproductive cloning expires at the end of this year. In a report presented Monday, an advisory panel told the state Legislature that the reproductive ban should be renewed but that therapeutic cloning should be permitted.

The proposal in Florida may be the most far-reaching. It would ban human cloning for any purpose. The measure would also allow any cloned person to move to the state and use its courts to sue the people involved in his or her creation, whether or not it occurred in Florida.

The goals of the bill, Kallinger said, are to make sure that a child born through cloning is not abandoned, and to create a disincentive for scientists to take up cloning.

Scientists would be liable for schooling, medical and other expenses of the child, even some costs that continue after the child is grown. Clones, their relatives and estates could also sue for emotional distress and other injuries.

"This sends a message around the world, or as far as Florida courts can reach, to scientists trying to clone humans," Kallinger said. "A scientist might say, 'I'm not going to clone, because the state of Florida says I'll have parental responsibilities.' "

"A lot of this is hypothetical," he acknowledged. "This whole debate is really something else. But you have to plan for the worst-case scenario." At least two teams have publicly announced plans to try to clone a person, but their capabilities are unclear.

Cheye Calvo, who runs the genetic technologies project at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that more bills will be filed as this year's legislative sessions progress. He said many lawmakers are reacting to the recent announcement by a Massachusetts company, Advanced Cell Technology Inc., that it had created cloned human embryos that grew for three days.

But state cloning proposals have often failed. Six states considered legislation last year, but only Virginia passed a ban, Calvo said. In 1997, just after the birth of Dolly, the cloned sheep, 23 states considered bans but only California passed one.

Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times