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House Passes NRLC-Backed Bill to Ban the Cloning of Human Embryos, But Many Senators Still Back Human Cloning for Biomedical Research

Mar 31, 2003 | 03-March 2003 NRL News

WASHINGTON (March 7, 2003) – The critical issue of banning the cloning of humans is back in the lap of the U.S. Senate.

On February 27, the House of Representatives passed the NRLC-backed Weldon-Stupak bill (H.R. 534) to ban the cloning of human embryos, 241-155, after first rejecting a substitute proposal that the White House said would allow cloned “human embryo farms.”

The two votes were big wins for those opposed to human cloning, which includes President Bush, NRLC, and other groups from across the political spectrum.

President Bush commended the House’s action, and urged the Senate to approve the ban as well.

“Like most Americans, I believe human cloning is deeply troubling, and I strongly support efforts by Congress to ban all human cloning,” Bush said in a written statement. “We must advance the promise and cause of medical science, including through ethical stem cell research, yet we must do so in ways that respect human dignity and help build a culture of life. I urge the Senate to act quickly on legislation banning all human cloning.”

NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson reacted to House votes by saying, “We applaud the lawmakers who heeded President Bush’s call to ban the creation of human embryos by cloning. Polls show the public is overwhelmingly opposed to the cloning of human embryos, but some senators are threatening to filibuster the bill in order to protect the right of biotech firms to open up cloned human embryo farms.”

“Today’s vote reflects America’s rejection of the notion that human life is a commodity to be created for experimentation,” commented Cathy Cleaver, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The ban on cloning of human embryos is sponsored by Congressman Dave Weldon (R-Fl.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mi.).

The bill is strongly opposed by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). It is also opposed by a number of organizations that represent patients with certain diseases, which have formed an umbrella group called the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR), and by some scientific groups.

In addition, the American Bar Association sent a letter to House members opposing the ban.

In the House, these groups pushed for adoption of a competing measure (a “substitute amendment”), proposed by Reps. Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) and Peter Deutsch (D-Fl.), that would have allowed and encouraged the creation of human embryos by cloning, while attempting to ban the use of any such cloned embryo to “initiate a pregnancy.”

Greenwood claimed that his bill would “ban reproductive cloning,” but NRLC strongly opposed it because it amounted to a “clone and kill” policy. [You can read <NRLC’s February 21 letter to House members in opposition to the Greenwood Substitute by clicking here.]

The House decisively (231-174) rejected the Greenwood Substitute before passing the Weldon-Stupak bill, 241-155.

Focus Shifts to Senate

The House had passed a ban on all human cloning in the last Congress, on July 31, 2001, by about the same margin. But that bill later died without action in the Senate, which was then under Democratic majority control.

When the 108th Congress convened in January, the Republicans assumed majority (51-49) control of the Senate. The new Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist (R-Tn.), said in a January 12, 2003 interview on Fox News Sunday, “I am opposed to any time that you create an embryo itself with the purpose being destruction, and that would include the so-called research cloning. And remember, research cloning is just that, it’s experimental. There’s been no demonstrated benefit of that to date, so I don’t think you ought to destroy life. . .”

However, the ban is strongly opposed by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is the chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee. On February 5, Hatch, Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), and others introduced  a “clone and kill” bill (S.303).  The Hatch-Feinstein bill would allow and encourage the cloning of human embryos, while making illegal to allow any cloned human embryo to live past two weeks of development.

NRLC strongly opposes the Hatch-Feinstein bill, which is intended to undercut progress of the Weldon-Stupak bill and its Senate counterpart, S. 245, which has been introduced by Senators Sam Brownback (R-Ks.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.).

S. 245 currently has 28 Senate sponsors and cosponsors.

The language of the Brownback-Landrieu bill is functionally the same as the Weldon-Stupak bill, in that both ban the creation of and trafficking in cloned human embryos. But the House bill also bans importation of products “derived from” cloned human embryos, while the Senate bill does not. Both bills provide for up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to $1 million for violations.

The full Senate ultimately will vote on both the Brownback-Landrieu and Hatch-Feinstein bills. Under Senate rules, it probably would be necessary for 60 senators (out of 100) to support one of the bills in order to overcome a filibuster by the other side, and neither bill at this time has that level of support.

The White House made it clear during 2002 that any bill to allow the cloning of human embryos would face a veto.

NRLC’s Douglas Johnson charged, “The pro-cloning groups really don’t care much if the bill they support, the Hatch-Feinstein bill, actually passes — because it is primarily intended as a roadblock to the legislation that would really ban human cloning. If no bill becomes law, then the biotechnology industry can set up their human embryo farms, except in the small number of states that have passed laws to prohibit the cloning of human embryos.”

Asked by a reporter about NRLC’s charge that the Hatch-Feinstein bill is intended merely as a “roadblock” to prevent enactment of a ban on human cloning, Michael Manganiello, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, “acknowledged as much,” according to theChicago Tribune (February 16). Manganiello told the newspaper’s reporter, “If it is a roadblock, so be it.”

According to a March 1 report by Bloomberg News, “Biotechnology companies and patients’ rights groups say congressional debate on the subject of cloning is chilling such research as they square off against the Catholic Church and the National Right to Life Committee, whose thousands of members and anti-abortion agenda hold many lawmakers in check.

“‘They are very powerful and very effective,’ said Michael Manganiello, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which supports cloning for scientific study. ‘They have days when they plaster 20 million leaflets in churches across the country.’”

President Bush Urges Ban

President Bush has repeatedly called on Congress to ban all human cloning (i.e., to ban the cloning of human embryos).

In remarks on January 22, 2003, the President said, “I also urge the Congress to ban all human cloning. We must not create life to destroy life. Human beings are not research material to be used in a cruel and reckless experiment.”

In his January 28 State of the Union speech, the President said, “Because no human life should be started or ended as the object of an experiment, I ask you to set a high standard for humanity, and pass a law against all human cloning.”

In a speech on human cloning last year, President Bush warned that unless such legislation is enacted, human “embryo farms” will be established in the United States.

On February 26, 2003, the White House issued an official “Statement of Administration Policy, which said in part, “The Administration unequivocally is opposed to the cloning of human beings either for reproduction or for research. . . . The Administration is strongly opposed to any legislation that would prohibit human cloning for reproductive purposes but permit the creation of cloned embryos or development of human embryo farms for research , which would require the destruction of nascent human life.”

House Debate

During the February 27 debate, opponents of the Weldon-Stupak bill argued that the bill would interfere with so-called “therapeutic cloning” and “stem cell research,” and that this would deny cures to millions of Americans suffering from various degenerative diseases.

“Stem cells” are cells, found both in embryos and in adults, that can morph into various specialized types of tissue, such as brain cells or heart cells. The term “therapeutic cloning” is sometimes used to refer to the creation by cloning of human embryos for research, including (but not limited to) the harvesting of their stem cells.

The term “reproductive cloning” is sometimes used to mean implanting such an embryo in a womb and bringing them to birth.

“We must distinguish between repugnant reproductive cloning and potentially life-saving therapeutic cloning,” Congressman Greenwood argued.

Generally, Greenwood and his allies avoided mentioning – or even denied — that they were talking about stem cells that would be removed from human embryos specifically created for that purpose, thereby killing the embryos.

Dr. David Weldon (R-Fl.), the prime sponsor of the ban on embryo cloning and a physician, pointed out that his bill banned only the creation of human embryos by cloning – not stem cell research using adult stem cells or human embryos obtained from infertility clinics. He charged that the biotech industry wants to exploit cloned human embryos not only to harvest stem cells, but for other research and commercial purposes as well.

“They want to create human models of disease,” Weldon said.

“Research scientists today in America, if they want to do research on Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, they buy mice and they buy rats that have been engineered to manifest that disease. [Now] they want to create human beings that are engineered to manifest these diseases. Now, can we imagine that? They want to have shelves . . . filled with human embryos, and sell them for a profit to research labs.”

Weldon also raised the specter of “fetus farming,” warning that with the development of “artificial womb” technology, “one can grow them well beyond the embryonic stage, and that will be the next thing we will be debating . . .if the positions held by some people who want to allow embryo cloning are allowed to move forward.”

Opponents of the Weldon-Stupak ban repeatedly suggested that those opposed to cloning were insensitive to the suffering of persons afflicted with diseases that might, they claimed, be cured through “therapeutic cloning” research – often citing specific members of their families afflicted with such disorders.

Supporters of the ban countered that they, too, had family members with such diseases, but maintained that this did not justify the creation of human embryos for the purpose of using them in lethal research. They also argued that ethically unproblematic research on stem cells taken from adult tissue is a far more promising source of cures.

Powerful remarks in support of the bill were delivered by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wi.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which had approved the measure on a party-line vote on February 12.

“My beloved wife, who I have been married to for almost 26 years, has had a spinal cord injury,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “She has no sensitivity below her waist. She is a wonderful woman. She has given me two wonderful children, and we have lived day by day and minute by minute with that kind of a condition. She and I are both in favor of what [Congressman Weldon] is trying to do, because there is an ethical issue and there is a moral issue involved in this, which many people want to turn their backs on. But in my family we have to live with it every day and every minute, and we will until death do us part.”

Pro-life House members voted solidly against the Greenwood “clone and kill” Substitute and in favor of the Weldon-Stupak bill. They were joined by a number of lawmakers who consistently oppose restrictions on abortion, but see human cloning as a distinct issue.

Among the pro-abortion lawmakers who supported the Weldon-Stupak bill was Rep. Bernard Sanders, a self-described socialist who represents Vermont.

Sanders gave a speech in favor of the ban, saying, “While I support stem cell research, the cloning of a human being for any purpose raises the deepest and most profound ethical and moral questions: questions about the sanctity or the uniqueness of each human person; questions about the evil of eugenics and genetic engineering in humans; and, equally important, questions about the ownership and use of cloned humans by an unregulated corporate biotechnology industry motivated almost exclusively by their quest for venture capital, short-term profits, and higher stock prices.”

Rep. David Wu (D-Or.), who described himself as “strongly pro-choice,” also spoke for the ban, saying it was necessary “that we take some time to let our ethics catch up with our technology. Our technology has gotten to the point where we are talking about genetic mixes, mixing of human and animal cells and other procedures which I think the public has a reasonable, profound discomfort with.”

Some opponents of the ban made remarks that left observers scratching their heads in puzzlement.

“We are not, and we do not, support creating embryos for the purpose of this research,” said Rep. Diane DeGette (D-Co.) “Instead what happens is researchers use existing embryos from reproductive clinics, which are going to be disposed of anyway. And there is no way this research will be used to clone a human being, period.”

NRLC’s Douglas Johnson called the remark “remarkable in its ignorance,” noting, “Although she was an original cosponsor of the Greenwood Substitute, Rep. DeGette was apparently unaware that cloning has nothing do with ‘existing embryos from reproductive clinics,’ but does indeed involve ‘creating embryos for the purpose of . . . research.’”

Rep. Ana Eshoo (D-Ca.), another original cosponsor of the Greenwood Substitute, said, “Children are created by the fertilization of an egg cell, by sperm, not by chemical stimulation.” Johnson commented, “It is not entirely clear whether Rep. Eshoo meant that she believed that the birth of a human clone would be impossible, or that she would not regard human clones as real ‘children’ even if they were born.”

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