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Missed Message: Deeper Analysis of the President’s Council on Bioethics Report

Genetic Crossroads
July 11th, 2002

Most of today’s news coverage of the report on cloning prepared by the President’s Council on Bioethics (http://www.bioethics.gov) portrays a near-even split between those members who want to proceed with research cloning and those who want to ban it—in other words, an echo of the split in the Senate. But reading the report itself reveals a more nuanced and politically significant set of positions and recommendations.

As (correctly) reported, 10 Council members propose a 4-year moratorium on cloning research, while 7 members propose that cloning research be allowed “without substantial delay.” What most press reports have missed is that the proposal of the 7 research cloning advocates clearly recognizes the dangers that research cloning entails, and calls for strict regulatory controls. These members—who include noted biotech and biomedical researchers—write (all italics added):

Unlike most of the more permissive human cloning legislation recently considered by Congress, [our] proposal takes seriously… hazards involved in this research, and it proposes concrete steps to prevent or minimize them.

“…we welcome regulatory guidelines and mechanisms, devised in advance, regarding cloning-for-biomedical-research…. And although we want now to approve cloning-for-bio-medical-research, we agree that it shall not go forward in the absence of appropriate regulations and effective mechanisms for enforcing them."

They go on to propose regulatory mechanisms that would:

“register, inventory, and track the fate of individual cloned embryos

prohibit the shipping or sale of cloned embryo

license and conduct prior review of all research involving cloned human embryos

set a definite time limit and developmental stage beyond which a cloned human embryo may not be grown, either in vitro or in vivo

prohibit the transfer of a cloned human embryo into the womb (or other gestational environment) of a human being or an animal (or into an artificial equivalent of the same) for research purposes

provide strong penalties to deter unlicensed or impermissible research

[protect]…any human egg donors

set rules for financial compensation for egg donation

establish other relevant measures designed to protect against the exploitation of women.”

(See http://www.bioethics.gov/cloningreport/ ; Chapter 8, p.140-144.)

These research cloning advocates thus appear not to support the unrestricted green light for research cloning that is embodied in the Feinstein-Kennedy-Hatch Harkin legislation as currently proposed. Their conclusions suggest a growing recognition, even among those convinced of the possible medical benefits of research cloning, that it should not be allowed until strong regulations are in place.


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