Lawmakers Say They Will Introduce Restrictions on Cloning
After a hearing yesterday on human cloning, Rep. Brian Kerns (R-Ind.) introduced the first of what may become a "raft" of bills directed at banning or restricting the practice, the Washington Post reports. Other members of the House indicated that they will introduce additional legislation "soon after the Easter recess" to ban the practice for reproductive purposes (Weiss, Washington Post, 3/29). House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair James Greenwood (R-Pa.) stated that he will introduce legislation, and Energy and Commerce Chair W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-La.) will help "mov[e]" legislation through the committee, committee spokesperson Ken Johnson said. "The groups we heard from today were serious enough for us to move forward to ban human cloning," Johnson added. The committee heard from members of the Raelian movement, a religious group that claims to have received a cloning "mandate" from extraterrestrials, as well as from Panos Zavos, a former professor at the University of Kentucky who is a member of an international team that earlier this month announced intentions to clone humans to help infertile couples have children. Raelian movment founder Claude Vorillon, who calls himself Rael, claims to have funding and a group of 100 women willing to assist him. He said Congress "should no more block his plans to clone human beings than they would stop the development of antibiotics, blood transfusions, vaccines and other medical advances." Brigitte Boisselier, the group's scientific adviser, told the panel that the Raelians have hired four researchers to assist with the cloning and have begun experiments using cells from cows at an "undisclosed U.S. location" (Zitner, Los Angeles Times, 3/29). Rudolf Jaenisch, of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, told the panel that human cloning would be "dangerous and irresponsible" due to high rates of fetal death and "evidence of abnormalities" in cloned animals. But Boisselier stated that the debate over cloning is about "the freedom of science and the freedom to make personal reproductive choices" (Regaldo, Wall Street Journal, 3/29). Zavos told the committee, "Those that say ban it, those would not be the Neil Armstrongs that would fly us to the moon," adding that because the technology exists, the "genie is out of the bottle" (Gribbin, Washington Times, 3/29).
White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer indicated yesterday that President Bush supports a ban on human cloning and will "work with Congress" to pass legislation. Fleischer added, "The president believes that the moral and ethical issues posed by human cloning are profound and cannot be ignored. ... The president believes that any attempt to clone a human being would present a grave risk to both the mother and the child ... The president believes that no research to create a human being should take place in the United States" (Los Angeles Times, 3/29).
President Clinton in 1997 issued an executive order barring federal funding for "any project involving the cloning of humans" and urged" Congress to "quickly" pass legislation banning the practice for "at least" five years. Several bills were subsequently proposed but not passed, in part due to "intense" lobbying by biomedical researchers and patient groups, who "fear[ed]" that a "loosely worded" ban would "inadvertently" interfere with research on "therapeutic" cloning, or the cloning of human embryos for use in cell replacement therapies (Washington Post, 3/29). Four states -- California, Louisiana, Michigan and Rhode Island -- have passed their own legislation banning the practice. Officials from the FDA told the panel that the agency has "regulatory authority" over cloning and would seek to prevent it "due to safety concerns" (Wall Street Journal, 3/29). This week the FDA "warned" Zavos and the Raelians that they must apply for agency permission before attempting human cloning. Tauzin said that a federal law is needed because the FDA does not "truly have authority" to ban cloning, in his view. And if it did, he said, the agency could some day be "forced" to approve the practice if the technology was deemed "safe." Greenwood and Tauzin will most likely seek to draft "narrow" legislation barring human cloning as a reproductive technique while "remain[ing] silent on its use as a medical therapy," Johnson suggested. Anti-abortion rights groups want such therapies included in a cloning ban because the therapies require the destruction of human embryos. Crafting a bill that actually passes may be "tricky," the Los Angeles Times reports, because U.S. courts have held that "Americans have a constitutional right to have biological children and to make reproductive decisions without government interference" (Los Angeles Times, 3/29).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.