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Historic Senate Debate on Cloned Human Embryos Delayed Until April, As Lobbying Battle Heats Up

Mar 6, 2002 | Killing Embryos

WASHINGTON (March 6, 2002) – Senator Tom Daschle (SD), the leader of the Senate’s one-vote Democratic majority, has postponed until April any Senate action on a bill to ban the cloning of human embryos.

Daschle had earlier promised that the Senate would take up the issue in February or March. The delay may be intended to give opponents of the ban time to step up their lobbying and advertising campaigns to kill the bill.

At issue is legislation (S. 1899), backed by NRLC and numerous other groups, to ban the use of cloning to create human embryos. The bill is sponsored by pro-life Senator Sam Brownback (R-Ks.).

The House of Representatives passed identical legislation, the Weldon-Stupak bill (H.R. 2505), 265-162, on July 31, 2001. But the bill has been stalled in the Senate by fierce resistance from the biotechnology industry lobby and its allies, including Daschle and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).

“Right now, the balance in the Senate is very, very much in doubt,” Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a leading opponent of the ban, said on March 5.

Specter also said the upcoming vote will be “the most important vote involving medical science in modern times,” and that adoption of the Brownback bill would take the country back to the “Dark Ages.”

Brownback said the Senate debate “will be about whether we, as a society, will allow human beings to be mass produced, to pre-ordained specifications, for their eventual implantation or destruction. . . . This issue must be addressed by the Senate before the technology overtakes the debate.”

President Bush has repeatedly called on the Senate to pass the Brownback ban. On November 26, he condemned ongoing attempts to produce cloned human embryos, saying, “We should not as a society grow life to destroy it. And that’s exactly what’s taking place.”

[Even as the Senate debate heated up, a special committee at the United Nations met in New York to consider a proposed international convention to restrict human cloning. The Bush Administration strongly argued that any such convention must ban the cloning of human embryos for any purpose, rather than merely restricting the use of cloning to produce born human beings.]

Clone and Kill Bills

In the Senate, the biotech industry and allied senators are pushing alternative legislation which, they claim, would “ban the cloning of human beings.” In reality, however, these bills would permit the creation of any number of cloned human embryos, but make it a federal crime to implant any such human embryo in a womb.

Such bills – called “clone and kill” bills by pro-life groups — have been introduced by Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) (S. 1893) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) (S. 1758). These senators are currently working to produce a single unified bill to protect the practice of so-called “therapeutic cloning.”

Some researchers and advocates use the term “therapeutic cloning” to refer to ongoing attempts to produce cloned human embryos as sources of stem cells, or for other experimental purposes. They distinguish this from so-called “reproductive cloning,” in which cloned embryos would be implanted in wombs and carried to birth.

Currently, only a small number of researchers, mostly overseas, admit to wishing to pursue “reproductive cloning.” The real battle is over whether to permit the mass cloning of human embryos in order to kill them for their stem cells or use them as “guinea pigs” for lethal research.

“The Harkin-Feinstein legislation would create a legal duty to kill a class of human individuals – all human embryos created by cloning,” explained NRLC’s Johnson. “The Harkin and Feinstein bills would make it a federal felony to allow a cloned human embryo to live. These bills would protect human embryo hatcheries, but punish with a ten-year prison sentence anyone who seeks to preserve the life of a cloned human embryo.”

Typically, senators supporting the Harkin-Feinstein approach are telling their constituents that they favor “a ban on cloning human beings,” but that they oppose the Brownback bill because it would ban important medical research on mere “cells.” In reality, the “cells” that they are referring to are cloned human embryos, and the so-called “ban” that they support is actually a ban on allowing any of these embryos to survive.

The Brownback bill would allow the use of cloning methods to produce cells (including stem cells), tissues, or organs, so long as human embryos are not cloned.

Stepped Up Campaigns

In recent weeks, groups on both sides of the issue have stepped up their efforts to galvanize grassroots citizens for or against the Brownback bill.

The leading force in opposition to the bill is the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which lobbies on behalf of more than 1,000 biotech corporations, as well as various other groups.

“The cellular and tissue transplants that could emerge from this technology could benefit tens of millions of Americans who suffer from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, cancer, spinal cord injuries, stroke, and heart disease,” said BIO president Carl Feldbaum, formerly a top staffer for Sen. Specter. Feldbaum told reporters that BIO intends to run broadcast ads in opposition to the ban.

Also lobbying against the ban is a coalition of organizations that advocate for research on various specific diseases. Many of these groups are coordinating their activities through an umbrella group called the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR). This coalition includes the American Medical Association, Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Parkinson’s Action Network, Project A.L.S., Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, American Pediatric Society, and other groups. [See www.stemcellfunding.org]

On March 5, Hollywood director Jerry Zucker announced that he and other entertainment industry figures have formed a new group, the “National Stem Cell Research Coalition,” to work against a ban on human embryo cloning. The group raised $600,000 in its first month, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Brownback bill is supported by prolife groups such as NRLC and by many religious organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church. The bill has also drawn support from various organizations that oppose manipulations of the human genetic code, such as the International Center for Technology Assessment. Scores of prominent liberal and left-wing figures have endorsed a complete ban on the cloning of human embryos.

[Statements from a broad array of groups opposed to human cloning are collected at the website of Americans to Ban Cloning, www.cloninginformation.org.]

Several of the groups supporting the Brownback bill have launched ads to seek to galvanize public support in states represented by undecided senators.

In late February, NRLC began running radio ads in Utah urging citizens to call the offices of Senator Orrin Hatch to ask him to oppose “human embryo hatcheries.” Hatch is an influential Republican senator who last year endorsed embryo-destructive stem cell research, but who says that he has not yet made up his mind regarding a ban on cloning embryos.

At the same time, a group known as Stop Human Cloning began running TV ads in North Dakota and Georgia, urging viewers to contact their senators to support the ban. The group is directed by William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard magazine.

[Listen to the radio ad below. Both the radio ad and the Stop Human Cloning TV ads are posted on the website www.cloninginformation.org.]
[ca_audio url=”http://nrlc.org///Killing_Embryos/Saltlake.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]

Hearings Promote Cloning

Senate Democrats have used public hearings before three separate committees to promote “therapeutic cloning.”

On March 5, a committee chaired by pro-cloning Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) heard testimony from Christopher Reeve, an actor who was paralyzed in an accident in 1995, in opposition to the Brownback bill. Reeve said that “therapeutic cloning” might lead to therapies involving stem cells that would “relieve the suffering of millions.” Reeve said he was “deeply disturbed by unreasonable attempts to block scientific progress.”

Testifying in strong support of the ban was Senator Mary Landrieu, a self-described “pro-choice” Democrat from Louisiana. Landrieu is so far the only Senate Democrat to cosponsor the Brownback bill. (See list of cosponsors)

“Creating life simply for the purpose of destroying it is immoral, unethical and should be illegal,” Landrieu said. “The human body is not a product to be mass produced and stripped for parts.”

Also testifying in support of the ban were Stuart A. Newman, professor of cell biology at New York Medical College, and Judy Norsigian, an author of the feminist health handbook Our Bodies, Ourselves. Norsigian argued that embryo cloning would require artificial harvesting of large numbers of human eggs and that this would harm women.

On March 6, the Wall Street Journal reported that a researcher in China, Lu Guangxiu, claims that she has been producing cloned human embryos since 1999. Some of these embryos purportedly have developed to the stage at which stem cells were harvested, killing the embryos.

The article quotes pro-cloning research chemist Paul Berg of Stanford University saying, “We will either condemn them [the Chinese] as godless members of an evil empire, or we will say, ‘Hey, wait a second, we can’t be left out of this race.”

Categories: Killing Embryos