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U.S. House Committee Rejects Amendment to Erect Barrier to Human Cloning in the U.S.

Jun 29, 2005 | 07-July 2005 NRL News

WASHINGTON (June 29, 2005)—An amendment to enact a barrier to human cloning in the United States was rejected by the powerful Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on June 16.

The committee rejected, 29–36, an NRLC-backed amendment offered by pro-life Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fl.) that would have required any state, university, corporation, or other entity to refrain from involvement in human cloning in order to remain eligible for funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Weldon offered the amendment during the committee’s consideration of a $602 billion appropriations bill for the federal Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which includes $28.5 billion in funding for NIH. (The text of the Weldon Amendment appears in a box on this page.)

Some researchers wish to use the process of cloning (technically called “somatic cell nuclear transfer”) to create human embryos and kill them to obtain their stem cells for research or use them in other forms of research that would kill them. This is sometimes called “therapeutic cloning.”

In 2001 and 2003, the full House passed a bill to ban the creation of human embryos by cloning, sponsored by Weldon and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mi.), but that legislation has never been passed by the Senate. If Weldon had succeeded in attaching his amendment to this DHHS appropriations bill, it could have forced Senate action on the issue. President Bush supports a ban.

 Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), sent a letter to committee members urging them to oppose the amendment. The AAAS website quoted Leshner as saying that the amendment “would be tantamount to a law banning research cloning by anyone in this country,” and “could force this vital research out of the United States and seriously impede the progress of scientific advances to improve human welfare.”

Some committee members opposed the amendment because they said it would interfere with “stem cell research.” Others claimed that they supported the policy goal, but opposed the amendment on grounds that such a controversial provision might entangle the funding bill itself.

In urging committee members to adopt the amendment, Weldon—who is a physician—said that it was necessary to attach the restriction to a “must-pass” funding bill because researchers are making rapid advances in human cloning. Just weeks earlier, researchers in South Korea reported that they had used cloning to create human embryos, genetic twins of specific patients, who were then killed to obtain stem cells genetically matched to those patients.

In view of these technical advances, “the cloning is about to begin” in states like California and Massachusetts, which are launching state-sponsored programs to promote such research, Weldon told the committee.

California voters last November approved an initiative, “Proposition 71,” that authorized $3 billion in funding for several types of stem cell research, including human cloning.

However, the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jerry Lewis, a Republican from California, strongly urged committee members to oppose the amendment, to which he objected on both policy and procedural grounds. Lewis referred to the California initiative as a “great thing” and said that the Weldon Amendment would interfere with “basic research.”

The chairman of the subcommittee that produced the bill, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), also opposed the amendment, and also referred to its potential impact on California.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wi.), the committee’s ranking Democrat, also strongly opposed the amendment. Obey said any restriction should only apply to those who wish to “create a human infant” by cloning, not to those who want to conduct research on cloned human embryos.

Speaking in favor of the amendment, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tn.) said, “God created man. Man didn’t create man.” Referring to the pressure from the chairman on the committee Republicans to oppose the amendment, Wamp said he would “appreciate the opportunity to [vote for the amendment] without interference.”

Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Ms.) noted that human cloning has already been made illegal in a number of other major countries and that the Weldon Amendment was consistent with the policy in the Weldon-Stupak legislation that the full House approved in 2001 and 2003.

But the pressure from the two chairmen appeared to sway a number of committee members who had previously supported anti-human-cloning legislation. In the 29–36 tally, 10 Republicans voted against the amendment, and were joined by 26 Democrats. Twenty-six Republicans supported the amendment, but they were joined by only three Democrats. (See complete roll call in box on this page.)

NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson commented, “All pro-life organizations should be deeply grateful to Dr. Weldon for his tireless efforts to prevent human cloning in the United States. The committee members who voted for the Weldon Amendment despite great pressures from the chairman and the biotech lobby also deserve great thanks. It is regrettable that even with the prospect of human embryo farms looming on the near horizon, some members of the Appropriations Committee who call themselves ‘pro-life’ refused to support this critical amendment.”

What You Can Do

        Concerned citizens should express their approval or disapproval of how members of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted on the Weldon Amendment (see box, this page). You can communicate with any member of Congress with easy-to-use tools on the Legislative Action Center on the NRLC website at http://www.capwiz.com/nrlc/home/.

        The U.S. Senate is expected to consider bills dealing with research that kills human embryos as soon as mid-July. For information on what you can do, see the action alert on the back cover of this issue of National Right to Life News.

        Additional information on the human cloning and embryo-killing research is available on the NRLC website athttp://nrlc.org///federal/killingembryos