A vote in the Senate on cloning could come as early as this
Friday, June 14. At present the outcome is too close to call.
Both supporters and opponents of embryo cloning are offering
compromises. Senators Specter and Harkin are incorporating additional
regulations and controls into their bills, which in their initial
forms granted biotech researchers a nearly unrestricted green
light. Senators Brownback and Landrieu are testing support for
a moratorium rather than the permanent ban for which they initially
These initiatives move both bills closer to the sorts of policies
advocated from the beginning by the Center for Genetics and
Society and other concerned liberal and progressive organizations.
It is unclear, however, if there will be enough movement to
break the existing deadlock.
A key question involves regulatory control over possible research
cloning efforts. If it were decided that research cloning is
permissible, what sorts of regulations would be necessary to
protect against abuse? At a minimum, these might include:
that laboratories and researchers wishing to engage in embryo
cloning be licensed
that all cloning operations be monitored, and that custody control
of each clonal embryo from creation to destruction be maintained
prohibition on freezing and storing of clonal embryos
prohibition on research cloning being conducted by assisted
or bans on the possession, purchase and sale of human eggs and
of an agency or office to enforce these provisions
Such regulations are no more strict than existing rules for
dangerous substances and pathogens. Similar regulations have
already been adopted by the United Kingdom, and are under consideration
in Canada and other countries.
Even if the Specter-Harkin bill were strengthened enough to
pass the Senate, the prospects for reconciliation with the even
tougher bill passed by the House last summer are slight. So
a stalemate still appears to be the likely outcome.
It has been suggested that in the event of a deadlock, pressure
will exist for some new approach to be developed over the summer
and fall that could get support from both sides and perhaps
be passed before the Congressional session ends in October.
If that effort fails, progress on banning human cloning will
have to wait until the new House and Senate convene in 2003.
In any event, the most urgent need is to expand the range of
civil society constituencies active in pushing for responsible
policies to achieve medical benefits while avoiding the dangers
of a new high-tech eugenics.
For an account of how the biotech industry organized their
campaign on the cloning issue, see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A18453-2002Jun8.html.