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Comprehensive cloning ban easily passes House

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives easily approved, as expected, a comprehensive ban on human cloning Feb. 27.

The House voted 241-155 in favor of the Human Cloning Prohibition Act, H.R. 534, which bars cloning not only for the purpose of reproducing a child but with the intention of creating an embryo on which to perform research. Before adopting the bill, the members rejected an attempt to amend the measure to allow the cloning of embryos for experimentation.

“The House of Representatives has taken the first step toward preventing terrible human tragedy in the form of human clones coming forth from laboratories with painful, tragic and fatal deformities,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The hour is late, and it is imperative that the Senate follow the leadership of the House as quickly as possible and put on the president’s desk, as he has asked, a bill that bans all human cloning for whatever reason.”

While President Bush had reiterated his call for a comprehensive cloning ban in his State of the Union speech in January, he promoted its passage again on the eve of the House vote. On Feb. 26, he issued a policy statement endorsing H.R. 534 and saying he opposed any measure that would “permit the creation of cloned embryos or development of human embryo farms for research, which would require the destruction of nascent human life.”

Rep. Jim Greenwood, R.-Pa., offered an amendment that would have permitted the cloning of embryos for research, but his colleagues turned it back, 231-174. Research on cloned embryos requires their destruction, a result called for under the Greenwood measure and a similar bill in the Senate. Thirty-five Democrats and an independent joined 195 Republicans in defeating Greenwood’s amendment.

On final passage of the comprehensive ban, 198 Republicans, 42 Democrats and an independent voted in support. Meanwhile, 16 GOP members and 139 Democrats voted against it.

In the last congressional session, the House approved a comprehensive ban with a 265-162 vote. While the margin was 17 votes less this time, 38 members — 14 Republicans and 24 Democrats — did not vote.

Observers expected the comfortable vote margin in the House approval of the comprehensive ban. The battle over cloning will intensify in the Senate. In the last session, the Senate never voted on a cloning ban. This time, Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., who sponsored a comprehensive ban in the previous session, again is pushing such a prohibition. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, is sponsoring legislation that would ban reproductive cloning but permit research cloning. His bill would not allow an embryo to survive beyond 14 days.

Hatch, normally a pro-lifer, and others contend embryo cloning should be legalized in order to seek cures for debilitating diseases. Many researchers say stem cells procured for experimentation from embryos have shown promise of healing such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The procurement of stem cells from embryos results in the destruction of the tiny human beings. Backers of a total ban argue embryonic stem cells have yet to prove effective, while such cells from adult sources already have provided cures.

Rep. Joseph Pitts, R.-Pa., said on the House floor before voting for the comprehensive ban, “I’m not willing to say that we should create a class of human beings to be used as guinea pigs and lab rats. We have seen that happen before in world history — in Nazi Germany with experiments on concentration camp victims and in Tuskegee, Ala., where our own U.S. government experimented on African Americans, infecting them with syphilis in search for a cure. We find these stories morally abhorrent. But what will history say about us if we fail to learn the lessons of the past, if we knowingly do the same thing to humans again?”

The biotechnology industry, some medical organizations and groups promoting cures for specific diseases are pushing the legalization of research cloning.

Michael Werner, vice president for bioethics at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, criticized the House-approved bill, saying it “amounts to overkill, with potentially serious consequences for medical research.”

Clonaid’s late-December announcement a clone had been born has intensified calls for Congress to act. While there is widespread skepticism that Clonaid, which is affiliated with the Raelian UFO sect, has produced a successful clone, other organizations are working toward the same goal.

In early January, the ERLC’s Land wrote to House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee to ask them to make a total cloning ban a priority.

The Southern Baptist Convention passed without opposition in 2001 a resolution condemning both research and reproductive cloning.

Reps. Dave Weldon, R.-Fla., and Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., were the lead House sponsors of the comprehensive ban.