February 27, 2003


House Is Set to Make Cloning of Humans a Crime (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, February 27, 2003, NY Times)
Dolly the sheep is dead, but the political controversy she engendered lives in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers are expected on Thursday to pass a bill making human cloning a crime.

The Republican-backed measure would outlaw cloning experiments — or, more precisely, the scientific procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer — either for baby making or medical research. Scientists who cloned human embryos would face up to 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The bill would also prohibit the importing of medical therapies derived from cloning research.

The bill is nearly identical to legislation that passed the House in the last Congress by more than 100 votes in July 2001, and it has the strong support of President Bush. The real question is what will happen in the Senate, where lawmakers are split over whether to ban human cloning entirely or to prohibit reproductive cloning while allowing cloning for research to proceed.

The Senate voted once, in 1998, to reject a broad cloning ban, and last year, the Democratic-controlled Senate would not take up the bill passed by the House. That will change now that Republicans are in charge.

"Our job has been made harder because of the elections," said Dan Perry, director of the Alliance for Aging Research, an advocacy group that supports cloning for medical research. Mr. Perry said he and others had been lobbying heavily to persuade lawmakers that "there is a difference between cloning a human and cloning cells in a dish that could lead to cures that save lives."

The debate over cloning is fraught with ethical issues. Should the ban pass, it would be a historic decision to criminalize a type of scientific research. "In my view, that's the equivalent of book burning," said Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a California Democrat who supports an alternative measure that would ban reproductive cloning only. The bill is sponsored by Representative James C. Greenwood, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania.

The controversy pits scientists, biotech companies and patients — who say the research holds the promise of treatments for diseases including diabetes and Alzheimer's — against conservatives and some religious leaders, who denounce experimenting on human embryos as immoral and tantamount to murder.

"We're having a debate about whether society can place any ethical limit whatever on the powers the new biology has given to us," said Richard Doerflinger, an official of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which strongly opposes cloning for any reason.

We can all probably come up with horrific childhood diseases that cloning procedures hold out cures for and tightly controlled circumstances under which we'd support limited research, but things never end there do they? The temptations to commodify human beings have already proven hard enough to resist, best nail shut this Pandora's Box.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2003 7:46 AM

Where in the Constitution is Congress given the power to regulate human reproduction?

I don't like this as a precedent - if Congress can outlaw cloning because of the risks of deformed children, why can't they make it illegal for people with certain genetic defects to reproduce? Talk about opening a Pandora's Box!

While the horrors of cloning are currently the stuff of science fiction, the horrors of too much government power are the stuff of history.

Posted by: ralph phelan at February 28, 2003 2:33 PM