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2 views of cloning headed toward clash on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON (BP)–Opponents of human cloning unveiled a manifesto against the abuses of biotechnology on the same day several U.S. senators introduced legislation that would permit cloning resulting in the destruction of embryos.

The statement, endorsed by some Southern Baptist leaders and released at a Capitol Hill news conference Feb. 5, calls for a comprehensive ban on both human cloning and engineering that changes inheritable genes. It also endorses legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on genetic information and urges a review of patent law to bar ownership of human organs, tissues, cells and genes.

The manifesto supports research “firmly tethered to moral truth” and says its public-policy recommendations “will help ensure the progress of ethical biotechnology while protecting the sanctity of human life.”

Supporters of research cloning held a news conference in the same Senate office building within an hour after opponents announced the biotech manifesto. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, presented his bill, which would bar cloning to produce the birth of a baby. It allows cloning, or nuclear transplantation, for the purpose of research on the embryo that results. The legislation requires the embryo “not be maintained after more than 14 days.”

Hatch and others support the legalization of research cloning in order to produce stem cells for experimentation on their ability to help provide cures for such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The procurement of stem cells from the embryo results in the destruction of the tiny human being.

Opponents of human cloning took issue with the Hatch measure on a number of fronts, including the requirement that human life be ended.

“This bill doesn’t really ban any human cloning — it bans human clone survival, which is a radically different thing,” said Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative director. “This bill would give a green light to the establishment of … human embryo farms.”

Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., refuted the contentions of Hatch and others that the procedure they seek to permit is not cloning. Brownback, sponsor of a comprehensive cloning ban, said at the manifesto news conference, “[C]loning is cloning is cloning,” whether for reproducing a child or doing research.

NRLC’s Johnson also criticized what he called “transparent evasions” by Hatch and others that the research his bill would permit would only be on “unfertilized eggs.”

“Cloning is, by definition, reproduction without sexual fertilization, so every cloned mammal alive today is unfertilized,” Johnson said in a written statement. “If a human embryo created by cloning instead of fertilization is implanted in a womb, is born and lives to be 80, she will still be unfertilized – but she will be human.”

Hatch’s bill is the Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act, S. 303. Cosponsors are Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif.; Arlen Specter, R.-Pa.; Edward Kennedy, D.- Mass.; Tom Harkin, D.-Iowa, and Zell Miller, D.-Ga.

Brownback’s bill, the Human Cloning Prohibition Act, S. 245, has 22 cosponsors, including Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. He expressed hope Feb. 5 the bill would reach the Senate floor this summer.

Among those endorsing the biotech manifesto were Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; and C. Ben Mitchell, a bioethics consultant for the ERLC and a fellow with the Council for Biotechnology Policy. CBP, which is a division of Prison Fellowship, produced the statement.

“The definition of humanity as we currently know it is at risk,” Land said in a statement released at the news conference. “When we artificially create tiny humans for the selfish benefit of bigger, older and more powerful humans, we diminish the value of what it means to be human. [W]e must take the necessary steps to halt the slide into the abyss of biotechnological barbarism.” Land had agreed to the document, but his name was not on the original list of signers because of a mix-up.

The nearly 30 signers of the manifesto included Joni Eareckson Tada, author and president of the disability ministry Joni and Friends; Focus on the Family President James Dobson; Prison Fellowship chairman Chuck Colson; former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop; Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Family Research Council President Ken Connor; Institute for Religion and Public Life President Richard John Neuhaus; Indiana State University professor David Prentice; and Concerned Women for America President Sandy Rios.

Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic for more than 35 years, said at the news conference she would like to be able to walk but she cannot support research using human clones.

“A scientific cure should be a hope-filled gift to the world, not the opening of a Pandora’s Box, not a smack in the face of God’s creative authority,” she said from her wheelchair. After she spoke, Eareckson Tada signed the manifesto, using a pen placed between her lips.

The statement, titled “The Sanctity of Life in a Brave New World: A Manifesto on Biotechnology and Human Dignity,” may be accessed on the Internet at www.biotechpolicy.com.

President Bush called in his recent State of the Union address for Congress to adopt a total ban on human cloning. The House of Representatives is expected to comfortably pass a comprehensive ban, but the legislation’s fate in the Senate remains uncertain.

Among endorsers of Hatch’s bill are the Biotechnology Industry Organization, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, Alliance for Aging Research, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, former National Council of Churches General Secretary Joan Brown Campbell and Nancy Reagan, whose husband, former President Reagan, has Alzheimer’s. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford have written Bush in opposition to the Brownback bill and in support of research cloning.