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End Game in the Senate Cloning Debate

Genetic Crossroads
June 12th, 2002

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 called.

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:

requirements that laboratories and researchers wishing to engage in embryo cloning be licensed

requirements that all cloning operations be monitored, and that custody control of each clonal embryo from creation to destruction be maintained

a prohibition on freezing and storing of clonal embryos

a prohibition on research cloning being conducted by assisted reproduction firms

restrictions or bans on the possession, purchase and sale of human eggs and human embryos

establishment 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.

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