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House Votes to Ban All Human Cloning

Feb 28, 2003

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to ban all forms of human cloning on Thursday, roundly defeating a rival bill that would allow the use of cloning technology for medical research.

The House passed a similar bill in 2001, but the Senate failed to pass any legislation on cloning. The issue once again lies in the Senate, where rival bills await passage.

The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003, sponsored by Florida Republican Dave Weldon and Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, passed by a vote of 241 to 155 after several hours of debate.

It would ban reproductive as well as therapeutic cloning. It also would make it a crime to "receive or import a cloned human embryo or any product derived from a cloned human embryo," with fines of $1 million and 10 years in prison.

This last provision troubled opponents, who feared it could turn into criminals patients seeking treatments abroad that might result from embryonic stem cell research.

Michael Werner, vice president for bioethics at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry group, said the bill amounted to "overkill."

"If this draconian legislation becomes law, the anti-importation provisions would deny American patients the benefits of SCNT-based [somatic cell nuclear transfer] regenerative medicines developed abroad," Werner said in a statement.

But President Bush applauded the vote. Bush has said he would veto anything less than a total ban on human cloning.

"Today's resounding bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives demonstrates concern for the profound moral and social issues posed by human cloning," Bush said in a statement. "I urge the Senate to act quickly on legislation banning all human cloning."

Last year legislation languished in an undecided Senate, but with Republicans now in the majority this could change.

Both bills have support from Republicans and Democrats, as well as abortion-rights and anti-abortion backers. But the new Senate majority leader, Tennessee Republican Bill Frist, has said he supports a ban on all cloning, including therapeutic cloning.

Anti-abortion groups also welcomed the vote. "We applaud the House for acting quickly to prevent what would be the creation of human embryo farms in America," Family Research Council President Ken Connor said in a statement.

The House defeated an amendment, sponsored by Pennsylvania Republican Jim Greenwood, Florida Democrat Peter Deutsch and others, that would outlaw reproductive cloning but specifically encourage therapeutic cloning.

© 2003 Reuters Ltd