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LIFE DIGEST: Talent’s withdrawal from cloning ban ‘strangest gyration,’ ethicist says; Lynn Swann opposes abortion

WASHINGTON (BP)–Sen. Jim Talent, a reliable pro-life vote in the U.S. Senate, has withdrawn his endorsement of a comprehensive ban on human cloning and elicited multiple reactions, none of which seem favorable to him.

Talent, a Republican from Missouri, announced Feb. 10 he would no longer co-sponsor the Human Cloning Prohibition Act, S. 658, a bill for which he has been a longtime supporter. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., would ban cloning for both research and reproductive purposes.

Instead, Talent, while apparently still opposed to cloning, said he would promote a proposed form of technology that could produce embryonic-like stem cells without destroying embryos.

The senator’s retreat on the cloning ban comes as he seeks re-election in November and as Missourians consider a petition drive for a ballot initiative that would permit embryonic stem cell research (ESCR), which results in the destruction of the tiny human beings. Talent has not taken a stand on the proposed initiative, which has been endorsed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.

Pro-life bioethicist Nigel Cameron called Talent’s move “perhaps the strangest gyration of any politician on the cloning question.”

While some believe Talent’s alternative, known as altered nuclear transfer (ANT), may be found ethically acceptable by pro-life advocates, “it is only acceptable if it really does not create embryos -– not if it creates deformed, dying embryos,” Cameron wrote in a Feb. 17 column for Christianity Today. “And if it does not create embryos, then the [Brownback] bill, which bans cloning, would not get in its way.

“Senator Talent may have thought his move a smart one -– taking some political heat off his back while at the same time enabling him to welcome ethical science,” Cameron wrote. “But he now has no political friends on the issue: He’s an army of one, and the sooner he comes back into the fold, the better for the cause of ethical biotech -– and his political career.”

Not only were pro-lifers deeply disappointed with Talent’s decision, but embryonic stem cell research supporters were not fully satisfied with his promotion of a compromise on the issue. He also appeared to provide a line of attack for Democratic opponent Claire McCaskill, Missouri’s auditor and an ESCR supporter.

“Missourians want clarity and convictions on issues like this…. He’s trying to be all things to all people instead of being principled,” McCaskill said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

While pro-life bioethicists are uncertain if altered nuclear transfer will meet the criteria for moral acceptance, Talent said the technology “makes it possible to get out from under this moral dilemma,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

“The problem with doing something like this in a political year is that people are going to speculate as to your motives instead of looking at what you’re doing,” he said. “[I] decided months ago that I would try to figure this out and say what I thought…. I’ve put a lot of effort into this, and I’m trying to come up with a thoughtful and positive approach.”

Without Talent, Brownback’s bill has 31 co-sponsors. All are Republicans except Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

Brownback has been stymied in his attempts to ban all human cloning in recent years. Leading Democrats, and some veteran Republicans, have endorsed a measure that would prohibit only reproductive cloning.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions.

Cloning of human embryos has been promoted as a means to produce more embryonic stem cells for research, thereby speeding up the work necessary to develop hoped-for therapies. Embryonic stem cell research, however, has failed to produce any successful therapies in people and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

Research using stem cells from non-embryonic sources -– such as bone marrow and umbilical cord blood — has produced treatments for at least 67 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, heart damage and various cancers. Non-embryonic research does not harm the donor.

ALL-PRO SWANN PRO-LIFE –- Hall of Fame football player Lynn Swann has said he would sign a bill banning abortions if he is elected Pennsylvania’s governor and if the Roe v. Wade opinion is reversed.

Swann has the support of state Republican leaders in his campaign to be elected governor in the November election. Swann, 53, is challenging Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, a support of abortion rights.

On the Feb. 12 edition of ABC News’ “This Week,” Swann said of a future action by the U.S. Supreme Court, “[I]f they send it to the states to decide … as opposed to making a decision that abortions are illegal, then I would sign [legislation] making abortions illegal,” LifeNews.com reported.

Host George Stephanopoulos asked Swann what it meant to him to be pro-life.

“That you’re in favor of life,” Swann said, according to LifeNews. “That you do not believe in abortion. That you look for alternative measures and means other than having an abortion.”

The Swann for Governor website says until Roe is overturned, he “will continue attempting to create a culture of life, both by using legislation as well as using the bully pulpit of the office. He will work to reduce the numbers of abortions by encouraging alternatives, including adoption and abstinence.”

When asked about stem cell research, however, Swann indicated on “This Week” he did not have a position yet. “It’s a matter of getting information and making an informed decision,” he said, according to LifeNews.

Embryonic stem cell research results in the destruction of an embryo, while non-embryonic research does not harm the donor.

Swann, who played on four Super Bowl championship teams during his nine-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s and early 1980s, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. He was selected as an all-pro wide receiver three times and won the most valuable player award in Super Bowl X.

PARENTS WIN –- A federal judge has rejected Planned Parenthood’s arguments and ruled a Florida parental notification law is constitutional.

In his Feb. 10 opinion Judge William Stafford described the 2005 law, which requires parents of minor girls to be notified before their daughters have abortions, as “carefully crafted.”

The Florida law was enacted after the state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2004 enabling the legislature to pass such a measure. The Florida Supreme Court had invalidated the state’s previous parental notification law.

Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida led the challenge of the law.

“Planned Parenthood cannot claim that it is interested in the well-being of the family when it seeks to draw an iron curtain between parents and children,” said Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, in a written statement. “It is hypocritical to require parents to incur the cost of an abortion, while at the same time prohibiting them from having any knowledge of this life-and-death event.”

The law includes an exception permitting a judge to grant permission for an under-age girl seeking an abortion, a provision pro-lifers contend is being abused by abortion-rights promoters, according to LifeNews.