Mar 05, 2002
By Julie Rovner
As the US Senate prepares to take up a House-passed bill that would ban all forms of human cloning, research and patient advocacy groups Tuesday launched a full-scale effort to block the measure.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, led by paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve, told a news conference and a Senate hearing that so-called "therapeutic cloning" is critical to realizing the promise of stem cell research.
"You can't use stem cells without therapeutic cloning," Reeve told the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
The House-passed bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sam Brownback (R-KS), includes two separate provisions "that would deprive American patients access to potential therapies for some of the most debilitating diseases," testified Nobel Laureate Paul Berg, on behalf of the American Society for Cell Biology.
Not only would the bill ban the cloning of embryos to produce stem cells that would not be rejected by a patient's immune system, Berg told the committee, but the bill would also bar the use of therapies developed in other countries using the banned cloning techniques. "It seems unbelievable to me that the United States Senate would deny physicians or their patients access to the most advanced therapies," Berg said.
Dr. Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center, a bioethics think-tank, and a member of the now-disbanded National Bioethics Advisory Commission, told the committee that while support for a ban on human cloning intended to lead to a live birth is widespread, barring embryo cloning is a very different matter.
"To block off a particular path, indeed to make pursuing it a criminal offense, is an extraordinary if not unprecedented barrier to research with unknown consequences for the development of possible new therapies," Murray told the committee.
But several supporters of embryonic stem cell research told the committee that cloning, even to obtain stem cells, should be banned.
"We believe that cloning technology poses vastly greater risks than other currently available reproductive technologies," feminist Judy Norsigian of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective told the committee. "It is highly likely that experiments on human embryo cloning would inevitably lead to unacceptable human germline genetic manipulation and pose a threat to many basic human rights," she added.
Dr. Stuart Newman, a cell biologist from New York Medical College, said his problems with embryo cloning "do not derive from any notion of the sanctity of the embryo, nor from attributing to it the status of a human." Rather, said Newman, his concerns arise "from two distinct sources--the over-hyping of another scientifically questionable biotechnology, in conformity with what is now a recurrent pattern of playing to investors' hopes and patients' desperation, [and] the destructive social consequences of moving down the technological path that begins with embryo cloning."
The full Senate is expected to take
up the bill in late March or early April.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited