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Bioethics council recommends moratorium on research cloning

WASHINGTON (BP)–A divided President’s Council on Bioethics has stopped short of recommending a comprehensive ban on human cloning, instead calling for a four-year moratorium on cloning for research purposes.

The 18-member panel named early this year by President Bush barely managed a majority for a moratorium on research cloning in its July 11 report. Ten members agreed with the call for a moratorium, while seven others issued a minority report recommending the regulated use of cloned embryos for research. One member abstained.

All of the council agreed in recommending a ban on cloning for the purpose of producing children. The council called such cloning “not only unsafe but morally unacceptable.”

Some opponents of cloning greeted the report with resignation.

“The report is not what those of us who want a total ban on cloning would have hoped for, but it’s the best we could expect given the composition of the council,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Anyone knowledgeable about the background of the council members would have predicted a majority in support of the president’s view but not an overwhelming majority.”

Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, called the recommendation of a temporary moratorium regrettable but “better than no ban at all.”

The Senate’s foremost cloning opponent said he was “heartened that the council has endorsed a temporary ban on all human cloning.” Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., said a temporary ban “would give the country an important opportunity to further debate the issue of human cloning along with its ultimate impact upon humanity.”

Land also expressed hope a moratorium would prove beneficial.

A moratorium “is certainly better than the present situation, which has no regulation of cloning, or the proposal in the Feinstein-Kennedy-Specter-Hatch bill, which would allow so-called therapeutic cloning in which the federal government would require for the first time that any cloned person be killed before a certain point of gestation,” Land said. “That alternative would be unconscionable and would be grotesquely immoral.

“The benefit of a four-year moratorium on all cloning is that it is better than both those negative alternatives and would provide a four-year breathing space in which researchers would be focusing on experimentation on the existing stem cell lines and on adult stem cells, where the most promising results have all been found to date,” Land continued. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in the next four years there are such tremendous breakthroughs in research using adult stem cells that there will no longer be any temptation to create and kill human clones for their stem cells? A four-year moratorium on all kinds of human cloning would greatly enhance the probability of that outcome, because it would focus all the research for four years in that direction.”

Brownback and others disagreed with the distinction the council made between cloning to produce children and cloning for research.

“Any attempt to draw a distinction based on whether or not the researchers purposely kill the embryo for scientific experimentation or try to implant the embryo in a woman’s uterus for live birth is nothing more than an attempt to legitimate human cloning under certain pre-defined circumstances,” Brownback said.

Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, said the “immorality of the act of cloning alone should close the books on any further discussion. To say that a particular end to the process would justify this immoral means is an unjustifiable position. This decision leaves the American people vulnerable; a moratorium on a dangerous act is not enough.”

Meanwhile, the call for a moratorium on research cloning did not satisfy proponents of such experimentation either.

The recommendation “is a blow to the millions of Americans fighting life-threatening medical conditions, because a moratorium has the same effect as a ban on life-saving research,” said Michael Manganiello, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research. “A moratorium stigmatizes vital research and is extremely hard to lift.”

It is uncertain whether a moratorium will ever become a reality. The House of Representatives easily approved a ban on both reproductive and research cloning last year, but the Senate has been fighting over the issue for months.

Brownback’s bill outlawing all human cloning has not been able to gain the votes necessary for passage in the face of opposition from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D., Calif., has been working to gain support for her measure, which would ban reproductive cloning but allow research cloning. It would require, however, the destruction of cloned embryos. Sens. Edward Kennedy, D.-Mass., Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., and Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, are leaders in supporting Feinstein’s bill.

The council’s recommendation is at odds to some extent with Bush’s position. In an April speech, the president urged the Senate to pass a comprehensive ban, saying it would be a mistake “to allow any kind of human cloning to come out of that chamber.”

“Human cloning is deeply troubling to me and to most Americans,” Bush said. “Life is a creation, not a commodity. Allowing cloning would be taking a significant step toward a society in which human beings are grown for spare body parts, and children are engineered to custom specifications, and that’s not acceptable.”

Bush named the 18 members of the bioethics council in January.

The 10 who endorsed the majority recommendation were: Chairman Leon Kass, a well-known bioethicist and a professor at the University of Chicago; Rebecca Dresser, a law professor at Washington University; Francis Fukuyama, a professor at Johns Hopkins University; Robert George, a law professor at Princeton University; Mary Ann Glendon, a law professor at Harvard University; Alfonso Gomez-Lobo, a professor at Georgetown University; William Hurlbut, a professor at Stanford University; Charles Krauthammer, a columnist for The Washington Post; Paul McHugh, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; and Gilbert Meilaender, a professor at Valparaiso University.

Endorsing the minority recommendation were Elizabeth Blackburn, a scientist at the University of California at San Francisco; Daniel Foster, a researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School; Michael Gazzaniga, a researcher at Dartmouth College; William May, a professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University; Janet Rowley, a medical professor at the University of Chicago; Michael Sandel, a professor at Harvard University; and James Wilson, a professor emeritus at UCLA.

Stephen Carter, a law professor at Yale University, did not sign on to either recommendation.

The lack of consensus in the cloning report by Bush’s council contrasted with the unity demonstrated by the National Bioethics Advisory Commission that President Clinton appointed in 1995 and that served six years. That panel, with Princeton President Harold Shapiro as chairman, recommended a ban on cloning for reproductive purposes but also supported federal funding for research on embryos left over from infertility treatments and for tissue taken from aborted babies.

Proponents of research cloning argue it must be protected in order to permit experiments on embryonic stem cells, the body’s primitive cells that have shown the ability to develop into cells and tissues to use as replacements in treating a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes. Research on embryonic stem cells already is being conducted without the use of cloned embryos.

Critics of experimentation using embryonic stem cells say it is not only unethical but highly speculative. It also is unnecessary, they say, because research using stem cells from adult sources already has proven successful. Such experimentation is not harmful to the source of the stem cells.

At its 2001 annual meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention passed without opposition a resolution condemning both research and reproductive cloning.