Bush Denounces News of Human Cloning; Congress Responds
President Bush yesterday denounced the news that a U.S. biotechnology firm had cloned human embryos, calling the research "wrong" and urging the Senate to pass a ban on all forms of human cloning, the New York Times reports (Stolberg, New York Times, 11/27). "We should not as a society grow life to destroy it ... and this evidence today that they're trying to achieve that objective, to grow an embryo in order to extract a stem cell in order for that embryo to die, is bad public policy," Bush said (Reuters/Contra Costa Times, 11/26). Advanced Cell Technology Inc., a biotechnology firm in Worcester, Mass., announced on Sunday that it has created cloned human embryos to use as a source of stem cells for a process known as therapeutic cloning. ACT researchers used two techniques, the first technique being "much like the standard approach" used to clone animals and the second relying on chemicals to stimulate an unfertilized egg to divide. Only about 10 of the clones divided successfully before becoming unviable, and none grew enough to yield stem cells (California Healthline, 11/26).
In fact, many scientists questioned whether the announcement was "cloning at all." ACT could not "report lasting success" because all of the cloned entities died quickly before yielding stem cells, and the company did not use any "groundbreaking techniques," the New York Times reports. ACT president Dr. Michael West "conced[ed] that the desire to be the first to claim to have created a human embryo by cloning" played a role in the company's decision to publish its findings before having firm results (Kolata/Pollack, New York Times, 11/27). "The chances are they're marking their territory. They know quite well that there are other people working on this," embryologist Steen Willadsen said. Dr. Mark Westhusin, a cloning researcher at Texas A&M University, said the report is "much more of an ethical issue than a scientific breakthrough," adding that ACT officials may have "want[ed] to test the water before they invest millions more" in cloning research (Dembner, Boston Globe, 11/27).
The announcement's political impact was "profound," the New York Times reports (Kolata/Pollack, New York Times, 11/27). White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said that Bush hoped "that as a result of this first crossing of the line ... the Senate will act on the House legislation so that this procedure can be banned" (Gribbin, Washington Times, 11/27). In July, the House voted 265-162 to ban all forms of cloning, including the creation of cloned embryos for research purposes, or therapeutic cloning. However, the only restrictions currently placed on cloning research in the United States are applicable to scientists conducting federally funded research. Private companies such as ACT face no restrictions (Carter, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/27). Five states -- California, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Michigan and Virginia -- have some sort of restrictions on human cloning, but most of those regulations apply only to reproductive cloning and do not address therapeutic cloning (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 11/26).
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a co-sponsor of a Senate bill to ban cloning, said yesterday that he will "push" for the Senate to consider a cloning ban before its Christmas recess. If that fails, he will seek a six-month moratorium on cloning research. "You have a president who wants to sign this. You have a House of Representatives that is very interested in getting this through. And now you have an announcement of a human clone," he said (Stolberg, New York Times, 11/27). However, Doug Hattaway, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), said that Daschle does not plan to bring the cloning bill to the floor until February or March, as agreed to by Brownback in a deal earlier this month (McGinley/Regalado, Wall Street Journal, 11/27). Daschle agreed to bring the bill to the floor at that time in exchange for Brownback's agreement to drop an amendment to the fiscal year 2002 Labor-HHS spending bill that contained "contentious language" related to human cloning and embryo creation. Brownback acknowledged that he agreed to the compromise, but he added that the "events of the past day make it clear that we must act sooner" (Fulton, CongressDaily/AM, 11/27). "We don't know who else in the country is working on the issue of human cloning. This needs to be stopped," he added (Bazinet, New York Daily News, 11/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.