More MS news articles for June 2002

Danforth, Eagleton back therapeutic cloning

Fri, May. 31, 2002
The Kansas City Star

WASHINGTON - With the Senate gearing up for an emotional debate about cloning next month, two former members from Missouri on Thursday teamed up to support using the technique for medical research.

Former GOP Sen. John Danforth and former Democratic Sen. Thomas Eagleton told a press conference at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis that while they oppose human reproductive cloning, the use of therapeutic cloning could save lives.

Reproductive cloning entails taking a fertilized egg and implanting it into a woman's uterus to create a child.

Therapeutic cloning does not involve the creation of a new life form. Instead, the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell is removed and replaced with material from the nucleus of a cell -- from a human organ or nerve, for example -- which is then stimulated to begin dividing.

Those cells can be used for research. The eventual hope is that the new, healthy cells could replace diseased cells in such illnesses as Parkinson's, cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

"Banning human cloning is one thing," Danforth said. "Banning research into the cause and prevention of disease is quite another."

Last year Danforth's brother, Donald, died of Lou Gehrig's disease.

"For two years after his diagnosis, excellent physicians could do nothing to stop it," he said.

The Danforth-Eagleton alliance shows that the traditional debate over abortion rights has become blurred when it comes to cloning. Eagleton has been a supporter of abortion rights, while Danforth has not.

The prominent anti-abortion conservative, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah recently supported therapeutic cloning and his supporters were incensed.

The target of the Danforth-Eagleton press conference was a bill by Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, which would ban all forms of cloning. The House has already passed its version of the Brownback bill.

Brownback's bill would also impose fines and prison time on anyone who took advantage of a medical treatment developed through cloning in another country, and who then returned to the United States.

Danforth, Eagleton and others at the press conference said they backed a competing bipartisan bill in the Senate that would ban reproductive cloning but allow therapeutic cloning. The Senate is expected to take up both bills the week of June 10.

But because President Bush has stated his opposition to all forms of cloning, it appears unlikely that anything short of the Brownback bill would get signed into law.

Therapeutic cloning has been endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences, among other groups. Opponents include many anti-abortion organizations, but also Friends of the Earth, a environmental group, which expressed concerns about women's health.

Brownback spokesman Erik Hotmire said in a statement that researchers would need to "harvest millions of eggs" for therapeutic cloning and opponents worry that young and poor women could be "exploited."

He said that therapeutic cloning "has not seen any successful treatment results in humans and is taking valuable resources away from an area where many positive results are happening. There are many successful human clinical treatments currently being done with adult and non-embryonic stem cells."

Opponents also fear therapeutic cloning would soon lead the creation of an industry around the harvesting of human body parts.

Eagleton said he remembered when the Senate raised concerned over gene splicing, but said, "the payoff has been enormous in understanding the causes of many diseases. So let's not miss the opportunity."

(c) Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder