Human cloning plans
Congress, Bush move toward ban, citing
safety and ethical issues
WASHINGTON, March 28 — Experts expressed
concerns about the safety and ethics of human cloning, even as researchers
who plan to move forward defended their plans Wednesday before a
congressional panel. Lawmakers raised the possibility of legislation
to outlaw such research, a move the White House said President Bush
MEMBERS OF Congress appeared eager to send him the legislation,
saying that even if the scientific and safety issues could be overcome,
ethical issues remain.
“Cloning may literally threaten
the character of our human nature,” said Rep. Billy Tauzin,
R-La., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who plans
to introduce legislation this spring.
Rep. Clifford Stearns, R-Fla.,
went further: “It interferes with the natural order of things,” he
said. “People have a right to their own genetic makeup, which
should not be replicated.”
Some researchers and ethicists
also are concerned because of the high percentage of failures and
deformities seen in animal clones since scientists announced they
had cloned Dolly the sheep four years ago.
While mainstream scientists are unanimously
opposed to human cloning, at least for now, two groups of scientists
have promised to move ahead within the next year or two.
They defended their plans before the Commerce
oversight subcommittee, likening their work to early efforts at in
vitro fertilization. Cloning, they said, can help infertile couples
who want a biologically related child.
“Those that say ban it, those would
not be the Neil Armstrongs that would fly us to the moon,” said
Panos Zavos, a reproduction researcher who resigned this month from
the University of Kentucky to help lead the human cloning effort.
In any case, Zavos added, there’s no way to stop the
science now. “The genie’s out of the bottle,” he
Zavos’ team, which includes
Italian Dr. Severino Antinori and Israeli Dr. Avi Ben-Abraham, says
it is setting up a human cloning project in an unidentified Mediterranean
country, beyond the reach of U.S. law.
The group plans to take cells from an adult and place them into
a woman’s egg stripped of its own DNA. The egg would be stimulated
to divide and form an embryo. The resulting baby would be a clone.
The researchers announced earlier this month that hundreds of couples
had already volunteered for their experiment.
Meanwhile, a separate group plans work in the United States. The
company, Clonaid, was founded by Rael, the leader of a religious
organization called the Raelian Movement.
site for the Raelian movement says a 4-foot-tall extraterrestrial
with almond-shaped eyes visited Rael, previously known as Claude
Vorilhon, in 1973 and told him that life was deliberately created
by scientifically advanced extraterrestrials using DNA.
“Traditional religions have always been against scientific
progress,” Rael said in written testimony. “Nothing should
stop science. ... Ethical committees are unnecessary and dangerous
because they give power to conservative, obscurantist forces, which
are guided only by traditional religious powers.”
Brigitte Boisselier, who directs Rael’s
lab, told the panel that her company received a letter this week
from the Food and Drug Administration warning that it would be against
the law to proceed with cloning without FDA permission. Boisselier
said she did not know whether Clonaid would proceed anyway.
The FDA’s Kathryn Zoon, director
of biologics evaluation and research, said people proceeding with
experiments deemed unsafe could be subject to a $100,000 penalty
and up to a year in prison.
“Because of unresolved safety questions
on the use of cloning technology to clone a human being, FDA would
not permit it at this time,” Zoon said.
Boisselier dismissed safety concerns, saying the problems
have all come in cloning animals and do not apply to potential
human cloning. She said she is working with a father who is devastated
by the death of his son and wants to clone him.
The key to avoiding a deformed
baby, she said, is simply checking the embryos that are to be implanted
in surrogate mothers for genetic problems.
But that does not solve the problem, said
Rudolf Jaenisch, a biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Embryos with defects that can be identified will never make it to
full term anyway. The problem is with abnormalities that cannot be
spotted but will cause defects after the baby is born, he said.
Only a tiny percentage of cloned animals
are born that appear to be normal. And some of these may in fact
have brain development problems that are not apparent because animals
are not sophisticated enough to demonstrate them, he said.
Congress worked on legislation
banning cloning a couple of years ago, but failed to produce a bill.
Among the issues: Banning human cloning without stopping research
using similar techniques to fight disease. Research is being conducted
into programming embryonic stem cells to turn into specific tissue
types that could be used to regenerate nerve cells and those in the
heart, potentially benefiting patients with Alzheimer’s disease,
Parkinson’s disease and heart disease.
Also Wednesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush will
work with Congress on a federal statute banning cloning.
“The president believes
that no research — no research — to create a human being
should take place in the United States,” he said. “The
president believes that any attempt to clone a human being would
present a grave risk both to the mother and the child. He opposes
it on moral grounds.”
Fleischer noted that Bush supports former
President Clinton’s 1997 ban on federal funds for human cloning