Anti-Cloning Petition Drive Launched in Wisconsin
Joanne M. Haas

Madison, Wisconsin ( - Wisconsin Right to Life this week launched a statewide petition drive against any form of human cloning.

"Whether we are talking about cloning for the purpose of creating a baby or cloning human embryos for the express purpose of destroying them in medical experiments, all human cloning is a threat to the sanctity of human life," said Susan Armacost, legislative director for Wisconsin Right to Life.

The petition drive, to be conducted in concert with a number of yet-to-be-announced education projects, follows last month's announcement that the Raelian sect had cloned human babies. No proof of such births was produced, however, leaving some to suspect fraud. Still, the announcements triggered a flurry of debate and legislation.

The two sides of the cloning issue have collided for years in Madison. That's where biologist James Thomson, in 1998, became the nation's first scientist to isolate and grow embryonic stem cells from leftover embryos donated by couples who had received infertility treatments.

Supporters of the research contend the embryos are donated and would otherwise be destroyed. They say such research is key in finding cures for Alzheimer's, diabetes and other diseases.

Wisconsin's new governor, Democrat Jim Doyle, supports stem cell research and even asked that Thomson be recognized by the hundreds of people who gathered for Doyle's Jan. 6 inaugural ceremony.

James Thomson's "pioneering work with stem cell research at the University of Wisconsin will one day save and improve thousands of lives, and will produce unimaginable economic progress for so many Wisconsin families," Doyle said at his inauguration.

Democrat Gary Sherman, a state representative from northern Wisconsin, has introduced a bill that strongly condemns efforts to clone humans, but protects what he calls legitimate research -- including stem cell projects. "This is one of the worst ideas in the history of science," Sherman said of human cloning. "Most people, no matter what their beliefs about abortion or stem cell research, oppose human cloning."

Sherman's bill, however, was blasted by Right to Life, which doesn't like the bill's protections for research. Right to Life is instead supporting The Human Embryonic Protection Act, which bans human cloning and embryo destruction, and another bill, which deals only with a ban on human cloning. Both are sponsored by Republicans.

Such bills have netted blows from both Republicans and Democrats who contend such anti-science proposals will harm Wisconsin by making the state less appealing to scientists and researchers, as well as to new and growing biotechnology companies, which some people see as key to rebuilding the state's slowed economy.

Wisconsin is facing a state budget deficit estimated to reach between $2.6 billion and $4.3 billion in the next biennium, which begins July 1, 2003.

Pro-Life Wisconsin also entered the debate Monday, saying the discussion about cloning and stem cell research comes down to life. "We must be about restoring legal protection for every human life, without exception," the group said in a prepared statement.

The bills face a mixed future. The Republicans control the Legislature, making approval of both a strong possibility. However, Doyle is a Democrat and would likely veto such bills should they make it to his desk.