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Genetic Crossroads
May 16th, 2001

1. Report on Cloning Legislation in Congress

As of May 14, seven bills have been introduced in the US Congress to
ban human cloning. The major difference among them turns on whether
a ban should apply only to the creation of cloned people (reproductive
cloning) or also to the creation of cloned human embryos for purposes
of medical experimentation (embryo cloning.)

Supporters of embryo cloning say it may have important therapeutic
applications. Opponents say its therapeutic applications do not appear
promising, and that it opens a very wide door to reproductive cloning
and to germline engineering.

In the past, most opponents of embryo cloning have been conservatives
and anti-abortion forces; most of those willing to support it have been
liberals. Now, however, progressives, liberals, and environmental and
women's health leaders are beginning to speak more supportively of a
complete ban on all varieties of human cloning. Left-liberal Dennis
Kucinich (D-OH), for example, chair of the House Progressive Caucus,
has signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill banning both embryo cloning
and reproductive cloning (the "Weldon Bill," HR1644).

Hearings may be held by the House Judiciary Committee and the Energy
and Commerce committee in mid-June, and the full House could vote on a
cloning ban as early as mid-July or August. If a bill passes the House,
action will begin on the Senate side in earnest, perhaps in late summer
but more likely early fall.

The biotech industry is stronger in the Senate than in the House. The
shape of anti-cloning legislation may depend on whether key liberals,
mostly Democrats but including some Republicans, will vote for a more
comprehensive ban even though it is favored by conservative legislators,
or for the narrower approach favored by the biotech industry.

2. UK Health Secretary Recommends Cloning Ban

The British Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, announced in
mid-April that the government plans to introduce legislation to outlaw
reproductive human cloning. UK media coverage noted that the proposed
ban is meant "to ease public fears about genetic technology."

Reproductive cloning in the UK is currently under the control of the
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which has stated that it
will not approve it. Milburn said the government believes that producing
humans by cloning "should be banned by law, not just by licence."

Milburn also announced funding proposals and other plans to ensure that
Britain "remains on the cutting edge of genetic technology."

3. Prominent Scientists Support Cloning Ban in Science

The March 30 issue of Science magazine includes a letter titled "Don't
Clone Humans!" from Rudolph Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute and Ian
Wilmut, head of the team at the Roslin Institute that produced "Dolly,"
the first mammal to be cloned from an adult.

"There are many social and ethical reasons why we would never be in
favor of copying a person," Jaenisch and Wilmut wrote. "However, our
immediate concern is that this proposal fails to take into account
problems encountered in animal cloning."

The authors distinguish between "copying a person" (reproductive
cloning) and "therapeutic cell cloning," which they support.
<http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/291/5513/2552> (fee)

4. Debate on Embryo Cloning in Nature Medicine

Though the British government has moved to ban reproductive cloning,
it has recently approved the creation of human embryos by cloning, and
their use to derive embryonic stem (ES) cells. This approval has been
controversial in the UK among both scientists and the public.

In the April issue of Nature Medicine, fertility pioneer Robert Winston
defends embryo cloning and the medical potential of ES cells. Michael
Antoniou, a molecular geneticist at Guy's Hospital in London, argues
that adult stem cells hold more medical promise than do ES cells (while
pointing out that any medical benefits from either variety of stem cells
are years in the future), and that embryo cloning would make both
reproductive cloning and germline engineering far more likely.


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