|08-01-2001, 06:14 PM||#1|
House votes to block human-embryo cloning
House votes to block human-embryo cloning
By Rick Weiss and Juliet Eilperin
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON - The House yesterday passed a sweeping bill that would outlaw the cloning of human embryos for any purpose, whether to produce babies or potentially therapeutic stem cells.
The bill also would prohibit the importation of any medical treatments created abroad from cloned human-embryo cells.
The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001 passed 265 to 162, with 63 Democrats and two Independents joining 200 Republicans. The vote dealt a preliminary blow to medical researchers and patient advocates who had supported a more narrowly worded ban.
Earlier, the House rejected, 249 to 178, an amendment favored by those advocates who sought to ban the creation of cloned babies but would have allowed private companies to create cloned human embryos and develop therapies from their cells.
Stem cells are versatile and show great potential for the treatment of many diseases, but their retrieval depends on the destruction of human embryos. Some researchers think stem cells from cloned human embryos would be the most useful of all, because they would not be rejected by a patient's immune system.
The bill would impose steep criminal and civil penalties on any individual violating the ban.
The penalties would make participation in human cloning in any way - from creating cloned human cells to receiving medicine based on such research done abroad - subject to a felony conviction that could bring a 10-year prison term, and, if done for profit, civil penalties of more than $1 million. Critics said the penalties could create a brain drain of scientists, departing to work in other countries.
Yesterday's vote - the first time Congress has grappled with the quickly evolving field of human-cloning and stem-cell research - capped six hours of heated debate, during which legislators feuded over the relative moral costs of experimenting on cloned human embryos and the scientific costs of banning such research. Ultimately, a majority came down on the side of caution.
"This sends a signal to the American people that the Congress is prepared to draw the line and ban human cloning," said Rep. David Weldon, R-Fla., the bill's primary sponsor.
But opponents of the bill played down the vote's significance. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, which has previously rejected similar anti-cloning legislation.
Foes characterized yesterday's House action as an opportunity for many lawmakers to prove their conservative credentials before going home to constituents Friday for a monthlong recess.
Indeed, some supporters of stem-cell research said they saw a silver lining in yesterday's loss. President Bush is to decide soon whether federal money should be made available for research on human embryonic stem cells from embryos left over from in vitro-fertilization procedures at fertility clinics.
By voting to oppose the creation of cloned human embryos, some observers said, lawmakers now might think they can afford to support funding - with strict federal oversight - of stem-cell research on surplus conventional embryos that otherwise would be destroyed.
"For Republicans who feel they may be going against their leadership by saying they favor federal funding for stem-cell research, they can now say, `See, I voted against human cloning,' so it gives them some cover," said a strategist working to gain approval of stem-cell funding, speaking on condition of anonymity.
During yesterday's debate, members on both sides described the vote as a pivotal decision that could have a huge impact on future generations.
Several said they were humbled by the immensity of the issue. Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said, "This vote is about providing moral leadership for a watching world." Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., described it as a headlong rush into the unknown.
"It's Congress playing scientist," Slaughter said. "Make no mistake, my friends, we are treading through unchartered waters."
More than a few complained they felt ill-prepared to make the right decision.
"This is cellular nuclear science, and there's almost no one of the 435 members here who understands this," said Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., who sponsored the failed amendment to limit the bill's scope.
At the core of that confusion is a tantalizing but unproven notion that the best way to get the benefits of embryonic stem cells would be to create cloned embryos from patients' own cells, so the stem cells derived from those embryos would be genetically identical to the patient and would not be rejected.
Scientists refer to that process as "therapeutic cloning," in contrast to "reproductive cloning," which refers to the creation of a fully developed, cloned baby. Saying a total ban on cloning could keep patients from gaining the benefits of therapeutic cloning, some scientists yesterday vowed to fight the legislation in the Senate.
"Today's vote is a step backwards and, if enacted into law, which we doubt will happen, will reverse progress that could affect potentially millions of patients," said Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "We're going to call on the Senate to reflect more carefully and separate therapeutic-cloning technologies from those used for reproductive cloning, which almost everyone agrees is repugnant and unsafe."
Criticism also came from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. We are "very disappointed ... that the House has passed an irresponsible, over-reaching restriction on scientific research," spokesman Sean Tipton said.
The Weldon bill, Tipton said, "prohibits American scientists from discovering potential cures for diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's disease and spinal-cord injury. If other countries discover these cures, the Weldon bill would make it illegal for American patients to use them."
But several lawmakers said that no matter what the medical promise, they were not comfortable allowing the cloning of human embryos. Some said the process was morally reprehensible. Others focused on the practical difficulties of stopping someone from transferring a cloned embryo into a willing woman's womb, where it could grow into the world's first full-term human clone.
"There is a fine line between creation and implantation," said Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla.
Opponents of embryo research responded to the vote with cheers but echoed scientists' warnings that the fight is not over.
"By a decisive bipartisan vote, the House has acted to block the creation of human-embryo farms, but the biotech firms will begin this ghoulish industry soon unless the Senate also acts," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.
"The real agenda of the biotech industry is now revealed. Lethal research on embryos already created for infertile couples is only a stepping stone to mass produce human embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them."
The Washington state delegation voted along party lines. Democrats Brian Baird, Norm Dicks, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott, and Adam Smith voted for the amendment to allow cloning for stem-cell research and against the overall bill to prohibit cloning.
Republicans Jennifer Dunn, Richard (Doc) Hastings, and George Nethercutt, opposed the amendment and supported the overall bill.
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company
Maksim (Max) Bily
mail to : email@example.com
Visit http://carecure.rutgers.edu/spinewire/index.html for best sci research info on Web
www.thinkwave.com -Where Teachers, Students and Parents Communicate
Play International Red Cross Lottery online
for weekly jackpot of 20.000.000 Swiss Franks tax free...