House committee expected to vote on release next week
Jan 15, 2004
Patrick Jackson and J.L.Miller
Delaware News Journal
Delaware lawmakers are stepping into the battle over when life begins with a bill that would ban human reproductive cloning but allow cloning to grow human stem cells for medical research.
Senate Bill 55 cleared the state Senate in June, but stalled in the House because Rep. Pamela Maier, R-Drummond Hill, could not bring the sides together for a hearing before last summer.
The opposing sides squared off Wednesday night. Nothing was resolved and the bill's fate remains uncertain. Maier's House Health and Human Development Committee lacked a quorum and is expected to vote next week on whether to release the bill for action by the full House.
Delaware is one of 25 states where legislation on scientific cloning was left over from last year, said Alissa Johnson, who tracks the issue for the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan group that advises lawmakers. She said the issue is cropping up in statehouses because Congress has not been able to pass a law on the question.
Currently nine states have laws ranging from outright bans on any cloning, to laws such as the one being considered here to ban reproductive cloning but allow cloning for research.
Maier said the fight over the bill in Delaware will be tough.
"There are religious groups, especially the Catholic Church, that have taken a very strong stand against this because they see it as taking a life," she said. "On the other hand, medical science says this holds the key to curing some of our most frightening diseases."
Scientists such as David Weir, director of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, say stem cells, especially those found in human embryos, have the potential to lead to breakthroughs. Stem cells are the blanks of human development, eventually specializing as the cells that form organs.
Scientists say the blank stem cells can develop into any organ or tissue. Weir said allowing scientists to develop the cells in culture dishes for research purposes "holds tremendous promise" for curing Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and other diseases.
Weir said he doesn't consider cells developing in a culture dish to be a living person, but the Rev. John Grimm, who advises the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington on biotechnology issues, takes a different view. Grimm said science should continue using adult stem cells, but that growing embryos for the purpose of harvesting stem cells is wrong.
Grimm, whose position was backed by about a dozen people who testified Wednesday, called it "an exploitation of human life to create it and then destroy it."
Richard M. Doerflinger, deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, raised the specter of "embryo farms" that would produce embryos to be implanted in women only to be harvested later for stem cells.
Dr. Michael DePietro of Hockessin said as a physician he could not support
using an embryo "as raw material for science."
© Copyright 2004, Delaware News Journal