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ERLC cites flaws in opposing ban on federal funds for cloning

WASHINGTON (BP)–A congressional committee recently approved a bill prohibiting federal funding of research on human cloning, but the Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics agency refused to endorse the legislation.
The House of Representatives Science Committee passed by voice vote the Human Cloning Research Prohibition Act, H.R. 922. The bill, which also must be approved by the Commerce Committee before going to the House floor, prohibits federal funds for research involving the use of a human cell other than that of a sperm or egg to produce an embryo. It calls for recommendations within five years from the National Research Council on whether changes should be made to the law.
The bill is flawed on at least three counts, a biomedical issues consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission told the committee. In a letter faxed to the committee July 28, Ben Mitchell said the legislation falls short for the following reasons:
— It bans only federal funding of human cloning research instead of a prohibition on all such research.
— It fails to define “embryo.” Since both the National Bioethics Advisory Commission and the National Institutes of Health’s Human Embryo Research Panel use “pre-embryo” to define a human being from the time of fertilization to about 14 days, the bill should specify embryos from fertilization to birth are covered.
— It permits Congress to revisit the issue within five years, even though the “moral status of unborn human life” will not change during that time.
The bill approved by the committee July 29 has holes “big enough to toss Dolly through,” Mitchell said. Dolly is the name of the sheep cloned earlier this year in Scotland that sparked a firestorm of debate that led to action by Congress.
“The time is right for an outright ban on the production of cloned human embryos from fertilization to birth, regardless of how the research is funded,” said Mitchell, who is assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “The vast majority of the American public favors a ban on both privately funded and publicly funded research. I frankly don’t understand the House Science Committee’s reticence on the issue.
“The fact that the committee can’t recommend a permanent ban demonstrates just how badly broken is our moral compass. It is not now, nor will it ever be, ethical to clone a human being. We don’t need to revisit that question, period.”
Mitchell also said, “The bill does not prohibit cloning human cells or tissues. We would support research which might result in tissue for burn patients or cell lines for persons with spinal cord injuries, but that research would not require cloning a human being.”
Messengers to this year’s SBC meeting adopted a resolution calling on Congress to ban all research on human embryos as well as the cloning of human beings. The resolution also urged Congress to push for an international policy to prohibit human cloning worldwide.
While Congress is considering the issue of cloning, the Scottish scientists who produced Dolly, the first clone from an adult mammal, reportedly have developed a lamb with a human gene in each of its cells.
According to a July 25 New York Times report on the production of the then two-week-old lamb Polly, animals with human genes theoretically might be used to make hormones to treat human diseases, might be infected with human diseases and tested with experimental treatments and might produce organs for transplantation into people.
Lee Silver, a mouse molecular geneticist at Princeton University, told The Times the prediction after the production of Dolly would have been five to 10 years before such a breakthrough was reached.
“We are getting closer and closer to human beings now, too,” Silver told The Times. “All of this can be passed over to human beings. Genetic engineering of human beings is now really on the horizon.”