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ABC News, March 28, 2001

To Clone or Not to Clone President Bush Supports Ban on Human Cloning Research

W A S H I N G T O N, March 28 A congressional subcommittee hearing testimony on whether America is ready to start cloning humans began today, with President Bush vowing to block research, even as some scientists prepare to plunge ahead here and abroad.


Many Americans think human cloning is illegal, but there is no law against it, raising fears in many who oppose cloning for moral and ethical reasons.

As the hearings got underway today, the White House announced that Bush plans to work with Congress on a federal statute outlawing all human cloning research in the United States.

"The president believes that the moral and ethical issues posed by human cloning are profound and cannot be ignored even in the quest for scientific discovery," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.

Good Morning America's Science Editor Michael Guillen found that even before the hearings got started, things were getting ugly.

A number of cloning critics have sought to discredit the hearing's star witness, Panos Zavos, a professor of reproductive physiology at the University of Kentucky. In statements prior to the hearing, Zavos said he plans to come out swinging, telling the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigation subcommittee and its chairman Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., that human cloning should be regulated, not outlawed.

Amid recent stories of animal clones being born with monstrous defects, Greenwood fears that the cloning technology soon could be applied to humans.

"Congress has to make a decision about whether it is ethical to allow the destruction of human beings as a part of a human experiment," said Greenwood. "I don't think that's a difficult question for the Congress to answer. We will probably not allow that to be legal."

Most members of the congressional panel seem inclined to agree and most of the witnesses they call are likely to express reservations about cloning. Many scientists argue that it is still too early to attempt human cloning, particularly since scientists haven't perfected animal cloning yet.

Scramble to Clone Humans

There are, however, several advocates of human cloning who are eager to move forward with research. Brigitte Boisselier, scientific director for Clonaid Inc., is one; she hopes to offer infertile couples and others a way to reproduce their genes. Clonaid was founded by religious leader Rael, who said the group is on the verge of cloning a human being.

"Our dream is to be able to introduce the baby to the public before Christmas 2001," Rael said. His group, which is based in Canada, believes that mankind was created by an advanced extraterrestrials working in labs.

Another cloning advocate is Zavos, who says his international consortium is determined to clone a human baby — probably within the next two years — somewhere in the Mediterranean.

Zavos is considering Israel as a possible location for such work, and he was there last weekend, lobbying religious and political leaders. There is a moratorium on cloning in Israel, but President Moshe Katzav was open-minded enough to meet with Zavos for over an hour. The Israeli president's advice: proceed with caution.

"Obviously this is something that we are taking very seriously," says Zavos. "That is really the thing that we want to accentuate in our work — that we intend to do nothing that can set anything out of balance and destroy human life."

Cloning a Dead Son?

In the United States, human cloning requires FDA approval, but Zavos says he plans to tell Congress that he "has no intention of developing this technology within the continental U.S.A.; so that this committee will not have to worry about this consortium breaking any rules."

Clonaid's lab, however, is based in the United States and its funding — reportedly $200,000 — comes from an American couple who wish to clone their dead 10-month-old son. The child died during a botched hospital surgery and some of his genes were preserved before he died. The Clonaid lab currently offers eggs to infertile couples, but plans to build another lab in a country where cloning is legal, its Web site says.

The couple's identity has been shrouded in mystery, but ABCNEWS has obtained a copy of a letter Boisselier plans to submit at today's hearings.

"I am a successful attorney, a former State Legislator, a current elected official," writes the father in that letter. "Our commitment to human cloning and to duplicating our child is unlimited; whether in the United States or abroad, we will never quit or give up on our child."

Zavos, says he's just as committed as his competitors in the race to clone a human.

In his testimony he plans to conclude that, "Those who say 'ban it' are not the Neil Armstrong's who flew us to the moon and walked on it. Those who say 'stop it' are not the Columbuses who took the bold steps to discover America."

Cloning Politics

There are rumors that Congress may recommend a complete ban on human cloning. But it is more likely that Congress would bolster the authority of the FDA to police cloning, say experts.

The hearing will hone in on the ethical and moral implications of human cloning, but members will also examine whether the FDA has the proper authority to regulate human cloning. The FDA asserts that it does.

The hearings were called after the two groups announced plans to proceed with human cloning.

Congress tried but failed to ban human cloning in 1998. Opposition was led by researchers who say the technology could be used to produce life-saving organs and tissues, a practice known as "therapeutic cloning."

The U.S. now has no outright ban on human cloning, though four states have banned it. Federal funds can't be used for human cloning research, however.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 


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