Congress and Human Cloning

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Congress and Human Cloning

This year Congress may face several decisions that could help forge, in the words of Pope John Paul II, "the path to a truly humane future, in which man remains the master, not the product, of his technology" (Address to President Bush at Castel Gandolfo, July 23). The first and most immediately urgent of these decisions regards human cloning.

The Weldon/Stupak Human Cloning Prohibition Act, approved 18-to-11 by the House Judiciary Committee, is poised for a vote by the full House. It should be approved without delay. Some researchers have already announced that they are trying to produce a live-born child by cloning -- despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that about 99% of new humans created by this method would die before birth, and the rare survivor would suffer from massive medical problems. The Weldon/Stupak bill addresses this looming tragedy at its source, by banning the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer to create a new organism of the human species.

This bill is carefully crafted to address only this specific problem. It has no effect on in vitro fertilization or any other reproductive technology in current use, but deals only with cases of asexual reproduction which do not involve fertilization of egg by sperm. The bill explicitly exempts any use of cloning technology to produce animals, plants, DNA, tissues, or cells other than human embryos (including stem cells which are not themselves human embryos).

Proponents of cloning nonetheless argue that this bill somehow interferes with a procedure that is essential to stem cell research. Until now, of course, these same groups were insisting that embryonic stem cell research could be fully pursued using only "excess" embryos created by in vitro fertilization that "will be discarded anyway." Now they say that mass production and destruction of cloned embryos to provide genetically matched stem cells will be needed to take stem cell research from the laboratory into the clinic.

While the cloning debate is now forcing such groups to admit that their earlier statements may not be true, their new claim is also open to serious question. The National Institutes of Health's new report on the science of stem cells cites cloning as one way to prevent rejection of embryonic stem cells as foreign tissue, but cites other approaches as well -- and expresses great uncertainty as to whether these cells will provoke a significant immune reaction even without such manipulations (NIH, Stem Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Research Directions, June 2001, pp.
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