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N.J. ‘cloning’ bill likely to reignite national debate

TRENTON, N.J. (BP)-New Jersey politicians appear ready to reignite the nation’s cloning debate.

Democrat Gov. Jim McGreevey has promised to sign a bill sanctioning stem-cell research which cleared the state legislature Dec. 15.

Pro-life leaders describe it as “a human cloning bill.”

One of the bill’s sponsors, Democrat Assemblyman Neil Cohen, declared that “this bill is not the most significant law we’ll write this session – but this century.”

Lacking a federal prohibition against such legislation in the states, observers say the New Jersey legislation is more far-reaching than a similar measure for stem cell research adopted in California in September 2002.

Three Republican congressmen from New Jersey issued a statement Dec. 19 sharply critical of the state legislature’s action.

The bill “would not only allow the cloning of human beings for research purposes, but would also allow cloned human embryos to be implanted into a woman’s womb, allow the cloned human to develop to the fetal stage, and then use this human child for research where he or she could be killed for their ‘spare parts,'” congressmen Chris Smith, Mike Ferguson and Scott Garrett stated.

“This legislation will launch New Jersey blindly into the vanguard of terrible human rights violations and grisly human experimentation,” they continued. “We are literally facing the prospect of creating a human clone, and implanting this cloned baby into a woman’s womb. Once this happens, nothing can stop the world’s first human clone from being born and starting a horrible new era of human history.”

The congressmen described themselves as advocates for increased funding to support life-affirming biomedical research, noting, “… we fully understand the drive to cure debilitating diseases and to improve healthcare for those who are suffering. But allowing human fetus farms for research is not an ethical or practical solution.

“Rather, the priority should be to fund the most ethical and the most promising avenues of research – adult stem cell research – which could find cures that will not exploit human life and incite controversy. Each dollar that goes toward projects that clone humans and destroy human life at its earliest stage of development takes away from ethical research that is moving forward at an incredible rate and that does not have the ethical baggage attached to human cloning.”

Research utilizing adult stem cells, meanwhile, “is ethical and successful,” the congressmen stated. “Adult stem cells are already being used to successfully treat humans suffering from cancers, autoimmune diseases, anemias, immunodeficiencies, bone and cartilage deformities, corneal scarring, stroke, heart damage, Parkinson’s, and skin damage.

“Adult and cord blood stem cells are able to generate virtually all tissue types; they can multiply almost indefinitely to be used for treatment; they have proven successful in laboratory culture and in animal models; and they have the ability to find and repair damage. Unlike embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells do not cause tumors, and they do not have the problem of transplant rejection,” the three congressmen noted in concluding their statement.

The New Jersey legislation, as described by various media sources, would permit state residents to donate unused embryos for research in connection with treatment at fertility clinics.

The bill prohibits the cloning of humans. And it provides no funding for research.

Reflecting support for the bill by patient-advocate groups during more than a year of deliberations in the state legislature, actor Christopher Reeve, paralyzed in a 1995 equestrian accident, testified in favor of the measure in November 2002 before a state senate committee.

“The federal policy for stem cell research is misguided and inadequate,” Reeve stated. “It now falls to state legislators to move this critical research forward.”

Reeve also stated, “Pharmaceutical companies are not interested in going out on a limb with research money if they are afraid the work will be banned.”

Noting that thousands of embroyos are discarded as medical waste every year, Reeve said, “If anything is immoral, it is to deny scientists access to unwanted embryos that are needed for research.”

President Bush called for a comprehensive cloning ban in his State of the Union address last year, but the measure stalled in the U.S. Senate. The House voted 241-155 for the Human Cloning Prohibition Act, H.R. 534, on Feb. 27. The bill would prohibit cloning both for the purpose of reproducing a child and for the creation of an embryo on which to perform research.

The New Jersey bill passed the state assembly by a 41-31 vote with seven abstentions Dec. 15; it passed the state senate last December.

In the assembly’s hour-long debate, Republican Alison McHose contended that the bill would provide New Jersey with “a market for cloned fetal parts.”

Democrat John McKeon argued, “These aren’t fetuses; they’re embryos due to be discarded.” McKeon said he respects “anyone who thinks this is a moral slippery slope, as I’ve heard opponents say. But to call this a cloning bill, or an anti-right-to-life bill, that’s simply inaccurate.”

Republican assemblyman Rafael Fraguela’s vote in favor of the bill prompted the chamber’s Republican leader, Alex DeCroce, to remove Fraguela as a member of the Republican caucus.

Among the pro-life organizations opposing the bill, the Family Research Council issued a bulletin Dec. 30 urging New Jersey residents to call McGreevey’s office at (609) 292-6000 to voice opposition to the bill, Assembly Bill 2840/Senate Bill 1909. A Dec. 21 bulletin on LifeNews.com listed McGreevey’s fax number as (609) 292-3454 and his e-mail accessible at www.state.nj.us/governor/govmail.html.

The Family Research Council bulletin noted, “Proponents of the bill claim that the legislation is necessary to find medical cures for diseases and disabilities, but there have been no successful advances using embryonic stem cell research, while research using adult stem cells or umbilical cord blood have proven to hold great potential and do not require the killing of a human baby, however tiny.”

FRC’s Connie Mackey, vice president for government affairs, said, “If ever there was a piece of legislation which tramples the sanctity of life, it is the one Gov. McGreevey is poised to sign.

“The new law would authorize New Jersey’s large biotech industry to actually clone a human embryo, implant that embryo into a woman’s womb, develop the embryo to the fetal stage and then kill it for ‘research purposes.’

“Allowing human babies to be cloned, implanted and then killed for their parts combines the horrors of partial-birth abortion with the Frankenstein-like practices of human cloning that 90 percent of Americans oppose,” Mackey said. “This single piece of legislation will let the entire world know that New Jersey is the number one most hostile place for human life in recent memory.”

The New Jersey legislation underscores the need for immediate federal action, David Prentice, a professor of life science at Indiana State University, said in a Focus on the Family news story.

“It’s possible that if the Brownback-Landrieu [human cloning ban] bill passed the Senate – and it’s been languishing there for a while – and President Bush then signed that total ban on human cloning, which he said he will do, that it could override the state legislature,” Prentice said.

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