|HUMAN CLONING DEBATE REIGNITES
Last February, Dr. Ian Wilmut revealed to the world that the cloning of an animal from an adult cell was possible using a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (see April 1997). Dolly, the cloned sheep, made global headlines and fomented widespread debate over the ethical and moral implications surrounding the cloning of animals, particularly the human animal. Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO) and Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) introduced bills to prohibit the use of federal funds to conduct research in human cloning, or to create a human being through somatic cell nuclear transfer. Both the Senate bill (S. 368) and the House Bills (H.R. 922 and H.R. 923) did not travel far through the legislative system, as the initial furor over the prospects of cloning calmed and the creation of human clone appeared far in the future.
Then, late last year, Dr. Richard Seed, a Chicago physicist, announced his intention of securing financial backing to open a clinic with the expressed purpose of cloning a human. Dr. Seed, who is not officially affiliated with any institution or university, also claimed that he not only had financial backing, but he had also found other scientists to assist him in his endeavor. Policymakers and the scientific community wasted no time in reacting to his announcement, for the most part denouncing Dr. Seed. President Clinton was swift to repeat his opposition to such a practice, stating that, ďThe vast majority of scientists and physicians in the private sector have refrained from using these techniques improperly and have risen up to condemn any plans to do so. But we know itís possible for some to ignore the consensus of their colleagues and proceed without regard for our common values.Ē Many scientists involved in genetic research question whether the technology has advanced sufficiently to make the prospect of cloning a human being a reality, and whether all the major risks have been addressed.
While Dr. Seedís announcement was soon relegated to rogue science rather than mainstream science, it brought ethical and moral questions to the forefront that could no longer be ignored and the ripple-effect became worldwide. The Council of Europe, an association of twenty-one democratic nations, met to discuss and sign an agreement to prohibit human cloning. Of the member nations, only Britain and Germany refused to support the ban. In the United States, Sen. Bond and Rep. Ehlers reasserted their interest in passing legislation to prohibit the cloning of a human being.
Rep. Ehlers legislation to ban federal funding of research involving
the cloning of humans or embryos (H.R. 922) did passed the House Science
Committee last session and was referred to the Commerce Committee.
His companion bill, H.R. 923, which would make it illegal to create a human
being through cloning, may be broadened to include language that would
make it illegal to create an embryo from somatic cell transfer as well.
Rep. Ehlers, a research physicist, has emphasized that his legislation
takes great care in protecting legitimate research in areas such as agriculture,
biotechnology, and pharmaceuticals. Sen. Bond, in cooperation with
Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), also intends to reintroduce
legislation similar to that which he initiated last session. However,
he plans to expand the language in his bill to prohibit both the public
and private sectors creating a human clone. Sen. Bond also expressed
his intent to broaden the ban to include the creation of embryos, and to
make the ban permanent. In response to Senator Bondís plan of action,
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have stated
that they too plan to introduce legislation that would place a ten-year
moratorium on research towards or the creation of a human clone.
The ten-year moratorium, which, closely follows the National Bioethics
Advisory Commission recommendation, is unacceptable to many congressional
leaders addressing this topic who feel that any ban should be made permanent.