House hearings turn skeptical eye on cloning
March 28, 2001
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Skeptical lawmakers opened hearings into possible human cloning Wednesday as an advocate argued that safeguards can head off critics' worst fears.
Former University of Kentucky professor Panayiotis Zavos, who said in January he planned to clone a human within one to two years, said the ability to have a family is a human right and the technology to clone humans should be available to couples unable to reproduce on their own.
"We have no intention of stepping over dead bodies or deformed babies
in order to accomplish this," Zavos said.
"The possible cloning of human beings is now not relegated to the world of fiction, and the question to the world is this -- what should we do with this science?" asked Greenwood, a Republican from Pennsylvania.
A federal moratorium now bans the use of federal funding for any research
that attempts to create a child by cloning, technically known as somatic cell
nuclear transfer. Leadoff witness Thomas Okarma, president of biotechnology
company Geron Corporation, urged that current restrictions should be kept.
Republican Rep. Brian Kerns of Indiana introduced legislation today to ban
human cloning in the United States. The bill -- HR 1260 or the "Ban on
Human Cloning Act" -- is the first to be introduced in the 107th Congress
to establish a U.S. prohibition.
"We do not want to stifle research and development in other areas of
science and medicine; we simply want to ban the cloning of human beings," said
Kerns. "In my work on the House Committee on International Relations,
I will seek to build consensus throughout the world on this issue."
Kathryn Zoon, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said human cloning is "a cause for public health concern."
of unresolved safety questions on the use of cloning technology to clone a
human being, FDA would not permit the use of cloning technology to clone a
human being at this time," she said in a statement.
Others were less equivocal: Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush bluntly told witnesses that "human cloning must be banned now and forever." He and others raised practical and moral arguments against it, raising the possibility of new discrimination based on genetics.
"Even if cloning begins with a benign purpose, it could lead to scientific
categories of superior and inferior people," said Rep. Cliff Stearns,
a Republican from Florida.
Also testifying was Brigitte Boisselier, director of Clonaid -- an arm of the Raelian Movement, which believes life on Earth stems from genetic engineering by extraterrestrials. Clonaid hopes to clone a boy who died of a genetic heart defect at 10 months, and Boisselier said 50 members of the movement have volunteered to carry the cloned embryo -- including her own daughter.
Boisselier, a chemistry professor at a Hamilton College in Clinton, New York,
said lawmakers should preserve "the freedom of scientific inquiry and
the freedom to make personal reproduction choices."
"These are completely different species with different cells and different reproductive techniques," she said. Clonaid has a team of four scientists working on the project, Boisselier said, but she declined to name them publicly.
Many scientists around the world are abiding by a self-imposed moratorium
on cloning humans. Opponents argue that the science is not advanced enough
to clone a human safely. They cite the high incidence of miscarriages, birth
defects and other health problems in animals that have been cloned.
"There's no way to screen with the available technology or with any technology in foreseeable future to do that," he said.
In the more than three years since scientists in Britain cloned the sheep Dolly, other researchers have successfully cloned sheep, cows, goats, pigs and mice. But in most cases, the cloned animals died at birth, Jaenishch said.
"Some reach adulthood and they appear normal, but they may not be. I believe there is probably not a normal clone around," he said. And even if humans have a better chance of surviving than other mammals, Jaenishch said, "We should not find out, because humans are not guinea pigs."
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