2:00 a.m. March 5, 2002 PST
By Kristen Philipkoski
Therapeutic cloning interest groups are starting to lobby hard to convince the Senate not to place a ban on certain forms of human cloning.
Celebrities and academics will gather
Tuesday in Washington for a media briefing held by the Coalition for the
Advancement of Medical Research to urge the Senate to not pass a bill that
would outlaw both reproductive and "therapeutic" cloning.
Instead, they hope Congress will consider one of several other bills that have been drafted as alternatives, and would allow the cloning of human embryos for research into disease treatments. But with renegade reproductive cloning advocates chomping at the bit to create human clones, Congress might not want to put the issue on the back burner for more rounds of voting.
"It's a difficult problem because the technology is very complicated, and it's pretty easy to say 'no cloning' without having any understanding of the implications of a broadly drafted prohibition," said Sean Tipton, director of public affairs for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
The briefing will be held before a Senate hearing of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Christopher Reeve will testify in favor of therapeutic cloning, along with Dr. Paul Berg, professor of cancer research and biochemistry at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Film director Jerry Zucker, whose daughter has juvenile diabetes, will speak at the press briefing. Zucker directed My Best Friend's Wedding, Naked Gun, Airplane and many others.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which is made up of 70 groups that advocate therapeutic cloning, believes it has a real chance to sway the Senate's vote.
"I think the Senate has shown that they are trying to look at this issue carefully," said Elisabeth Bresee Brittin, executive director of the Parkinson's Action Network, which is a member of the coalition. "Some (senators) already have a set stance for or against, but many others still haven't decided yet."
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is a perfect example, she said. He is known for his conservative views, but last year surprisingly came out in support of stem cell research. He has still not made his decision on the cloning issue.
Last July, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 2505 in a 265-162 vote. The bill would ban human embryo cloning not only for human reproduction, but also for experimental research that many believe could lead to cures for spinal cord injury, Parkinson's, diabetes and other disorders.
At the time, therapeutic cloning advocates hoped the House would pass an amendment that would have outlawed reproductive cloning but allowed therapeutic cloning. Instead, it approved fines up to $10 million for any type of cloning, or even for importing cloned embryos.
The three alternative bills -- S.1758, S. 1893 and S. 704 -- were drafted by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-California), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colorado), respectively.
Sources close to the issue expect the Senators will consolidate the three bills into one.
Many scientists believe that stem cells could one day replace damaged cells, such as neurons or spinal cord cells, to heal people who are injured or suffer from certain diseases.
The most versatile stem cells seem to be those taken from embryos, which are destroyed in the process of harvesting the stem cells -- a fact that has brought opposition from religious leaders and others who believe that life begins when an embryo is created, whether or not it's implanted.
By creating a clone of a patient and harvesting stem cells from it, some scientists believe the biological rejection that could occur by transplanting stem cells from a mismatched donor could be eliminated.
Stem cell therapy is by no means certain to succeed. But therapeutic cloning advocates say scientists should have the chance to try.
"In this country, we look to promote
scientific research, not to stifle it," Bresee Brittin said.
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