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Friday, 27 April, 2001, 05:19 GMT 06:19 UK

US debates human cloning ban

The first bill to ban human cloning in America has been introduced in both houses of the United States Congress.

The legislation has been drawn up by Republican Congressmen who believe the practice is morally indefensible and medically unsound and want to prevent "a manufacturing process in which children are made in laboratories".

If approved, the bill would make it a federal crime to clone a human or import human clones to the US.

It would also introduce drastic penalties for those who try to practise it - 10 years in prison, or a $1m fine.

Although there is no guarantee it will be put to the vote, those behind the bill believe the time has come to begin the political fight against a technique they regard as repugnant.

The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001 goes further than legislation introduced earlier this month, which would ban "reproductive cloning", or allowing the birth of a cloned human being.

The White House has indicated that if Congress passes a bill to ban cloning, President George W Bush would sign it.

Human cloning has already been outlawed in five US states.

"Efforts to create human beings by cloning mark a new and decisive step toward turning human reproduction into a manufacturing process," said Kansas Senator Sam Brownback.

But an American infertility specialist, Dr Panos Zavos, has said he believes a cloned baby will be produced in the next two years.

Dr Zavos, who belongs to an international consortium working on human cloning, says Congress should be ensuring the technology is properly developed.

'Who wants to be a clone?'

However, Congressman Dave Weldon says the experience of cloning sheep has given rise to many serious birth defects, and, in ethical terms, the concept of cloning a human individual is fundamentally flawed.

Lambs can be put down, he argues, but the same cannot be done to damaged human children.

"Who wants to be a clone? That should be the real question we should be asking," he said.

He added: "I think most of us would like to pride ourselves in the knowledge that we are an individual, unique entity and to be bequeathed with the heredity that you are just a carbon copy - is that something you want for yourself?"

It could be months, even years before a nationwide ban is fully debated in Congress, but opposition to the principle of cloning is gathering pace.


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