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Comprehensive cloning ban gains surprising supporter

WASHINGTON (BP)–Supporters of a comprehensive ban on human cloning have received some encouraging news from an unexpected source.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R.-Ore., a backer of embryonic stem-cell research, has announced he will vote for legislation prohibiting all human cloning. Smith’s announcement came as both sides in the cloning controversy battle over every undecided senator in a vote that is likely to be narrowly decided.

The Senate is expected to take up the cloning issue during May.

Smith’s decision boosted the hopes of Sens. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., and Mary Landrieu, D.-La., lead sponsors of the Human Cloning Prohibition Act, S. 1899. The Brownback-Landrieu bill is the only Senate version that would prohibit cloning for both reproductive and research purposes.

Alternatives to the Brownback-Landrieu proposal would bar only reproductive cloning. Those four bills would permit the cloning of embryos in order to obtain stem cells for research into finding cures for a variety of diseases. Procurement of cells from embryos destroys the tiny human beings, however.

While he supports research on stem cells procured from embryos that are not cloned, Smith is concerned cloning for such a reason could be abused, a spokesman said.

“Whatever possible benefits there are, the abuse that could come from humans being born that are cloned far outweighs that,” said Chris Matthews, Smith’s communications director in The Oregonian newspaper. “There is little doubt that once the technology is there, the law will not prevent, whether in the United States or another country, someone from producing a cloned human being. It takes you to the precipice of a slippery slope.”

Smith believes important research can be conducted using adult stem cells and the existing stem-cell colonies Bush approved for federal funding, Matthews told the Oregonian. Adult stem cells have been used successfully to treat diseases, and their procurement does not harm the source. Last year, Bush announced his support for underwriting research on adult stem cells but said he would permit embryonic stem-cell funds only for colonies of such cells already existing.

Smith’s announcement offset the decision by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R.-Utah, to back a recently introduced bill by Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., that would allow cloning of embryos for research. Since Hatch’s endorsement was announced, Sen. Strom Thurmond, R.-S.C., also has disclosed his intention to vote for the pro-research cloning bill.

Neither decision came as a surprise, even though both longtime senators have pro-life voting records. Both endorsed funding for embryonic stem-cell research last year.

President Bush endorsed the Brownback-Landrieu bill in April and called on the Senate to approve it.

Meanwhile, the biotechnology lobby has been actively pressing senators to oppose the same legislation. Supporters of the comprehensive ban include not only pro-life organizations, such as the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, but non-pro-life organizations, such as Friends of the Earth, the Center for Technology Assessment and the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.

The Brownback-Landrieu measure has 30 cosponsors, with Landrieu the only Democrat. The House of Representatives adopted a comprehensive ban last year by more than 100 votes.

Proponents of research cloning say 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 charge the hope such research provides is only speculative.

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

Contacts with senators may be made by calling the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or by emailing through www.erlc.com/capitolhill.

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