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Bill to ban human cloning raises debate

Lawmakers hear testimony from both sides

May 21, 2003
By Jenny Price
Associated Press

University of Wisconsin-Madison officials told a legislative committee Tuesday a proposed ban of human cloning would harm the state’s reputation and ability to achieve breakthroughs in scientific research.

But supporters of a ban told lawmakers it was needed to protect human life and prevent exploitation of embryos in the name of science.

“The cloning of human life is biologically and scientifically questionable and ethically and morally wrong,” said Sen. Joe Leibham, R-Sheboygan, the main sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.

“It is my personal belief, in regard to creation and development of human beings and the process God has set forth, that we are playing with the natural process of human life development through cloning,” Leibham said.

Leibham said his bill would not ban animal or tissue cloning or impede “the promising research taking place with adult stem cells.

The legislation would prohibit both reproductive cloning, which is intended to bring a cloned embryo to birth, and nonreproductive methods of cloning that produce stem cells.

Stem cells, which form very early in an embryo’s development, can develop into numerous types of cells to form organs and other parts of the body. Researchers hope to use these cells to repair damaged organs and cure diseases.

Leibham said nine other states, including Iowa and Michigan, have human cloning bans in place. He said the ban would not prohibit other forms of research going on in Wisconsin, including embryonic stem cell research on existing stem cell lines.

Leibham and Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, who is the main author of an identical bill in the Assembly, testified Tuesday before a joint hearing of the Assembly Committee on Public Health and the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections and Privacy.

The committee did not vote after Tuesday’s public hearing. The bills must be approved by the committees before they can be debated by the full Legislature.

Gov. Jim Doyle plans to veto either of the bills, according to Doyle spokesman Dan Leistikow. The governor opposes cloning humans but also is against restricting stem cell research, including nonreproductive methods of cloning, Leistikow said.

Leistikow said the research bans would “chase scientists into other states and chase away millions of dollars in research funding.”

“What the governor intends to do will not stop or hinder me and the 50 co-authors of the bill in moving forward the resolution and debate on whether cloning should be allowed in Wisconsin,” Leibham said.Charles Hoslet, senior special assistant to University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor John Wiley, told legislators the university supports banning cloning to produce a live-born child. But the school opposes criminalizing nonreproductive cloning for research or therapy, he said.

Hoslet said cloning cells from someone with a genetic disease could help researchers produce tissue to study how the defective gene malfunctions and possibly develop drug treatments.

“While reproductive cloning is a danger to children, nonreproductive cloning could save their lives,” he said.

Andrew Cohn, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, said the ban would slow the advance of technology discovered at UW and harm its national reputation. The foundation is the UW’s patent agency and holds patents for five stem cell lines and the method of isolating stem cells.

“The prestige of the university will suffer a devastating blow and cures for many debilitating diseases will be delayed, and the economy of this state will be irreparably harmed,” Cohn said.

Donna Arciszewski, who uses a wheelchair because she suffers from multiple sclerosis, said she welcomes advances in science that could help her condition, “but not at the expense of another human life.”

Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, D-Milwaukee, a physician, said an outright ban on cloning would hurt infertile couples who may want to use cloning to have their own children.

“People want their own flesh and blood,” Wasserman said.

But Leibham said there are other options available to infertile couples, including adoption. Rep. “Doc” Hines, R-Oxford, chairman of the Assembly committee, agreed cloning was not a favorable option.

“A clone would not be your own flesh and blood,” he said. “This is something artificial.”

Staff writer Charlie Mathews contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2003, Associated Press