The House passed a Bush administration-supported bill that would ban all human cloning and sent the measure to the Senate, where opponents predicted it would die as it did in the last legislative session. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the 241-155 vote Thursday in the House “sends the wrong message to America’s medical research community.”
“I remain confident that similar legislation will not pass the United States Senate,” Feinstein said.
But Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said “the Senate cannot afford to be silent any longer” on the issue.
Brownback, along with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has sponsored the Senate version of the bill banning all human cloning.
Proponents in the Senate have conceded they do not have the 60 votes necessary to end debate and force a vote on the bill. It also is unclear how aggressively Majority Leader Bill Frist, a heart surgeon from Tennessee who has taken a middle ground on embryo research issues, will push the anti-cloning measure.
Ban on all human cloning
The House bill would ban all human cloning — for reproduction or research — and impose a $1 million fine and a prison sentence of up to 10 years for violators.
The measure passed the House 265-162 during the previous Congress before stalling in the Senate.
Opponents of the bill offered an alternative that would allow research, but it failed in a 231-174 vote.
The issue has divided lawmakers into two camps: those who want to ban all human cloning and those who want an exception for research.
Backers of research have said an exception is needed so scientists can continue to work toward cures for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and rheumatoid arthritis.
Those who maintain that all human cloning — even research — must be banned argue that a cloned embryo is a human even before implantation in the womb, and to destroy it for research would be immoral.
“We cannot afford to treat the issue of human embryo cloning lightly,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., co-author with Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., of a complete ban bill. “The human race is not open to experimentation at any level, even the molecular level.”
Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., said anything other than a total ban “would license the most ghoulish and dangerous enterprise in human history.”
“Congress must act now,” Myrick said. “We can no longer wait for another biotech company to claim they have cloned children.”
Exception for research
But Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., argued that the bill would “close the door to important research.”
“I can’t see how it is moral to look in the eyes of someone with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s and say we’re going to stand in the way,” McGovern said.
President Bush praised lawmakers for approving the measure. “Today’s resounding bipartisan vote in the House demonstrates concern for the profound moral and social issues posed by human cloning,” Bush said.
In cloning, genes from an adult cell are implanted into a human egg from which all the genetic material has been removed. The egg is then cultured into an embryo that, if implanted in a womb, would produce an offspring that would be a genetic duplicate of the cell donor.
Supporters of research hope that eventually stem cells can be culled from cloned embryos. The hope is that building block stem cells in the embryos would be genetic matches capable of being transplanted into patients whose cells are damaged by disease.
Lawmakers renewed the effort to pass a cloning ban after a company’s claim last year to have cloned the first human baby. The claims by Clonaid were never verified, but it was enough to spur Congress to action.
“Although the cloning announcement appears to be a hoax, there are a growing number of individuals who claim they can and will clone a human being,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. “In light of these announcements, it is imperative that Congress acts.”