Senate Passes Tough Ban on Cloning - 1/31/03
The Senate Judiciary Committee this week is again scheduled to take up the
question of banning human cloning.
The House has already approved a ban on all human cloning, and as this ScienCentral
News Video reports, the science community is weighing in on the debate.
Not All Cloning is the Same
vote to ban all human cloning research in February 2003 may have seemed
like a carbon copy of its vote in April 2002. Once again, President
Bush supports the total ban. But this time around, the bill has been sent
to a Republican-controlled Senate.
The vote also came after the claim that human beings have already been cloned.
In December 2002, members of the Raelians
claimed they had cloned several babies around the world, babies that nobody
ever actually saw. This apparent hoax did little to ease some peopleâ€™s
minds about the issue of cloning.
Pence, a medical ethicist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham,
believes this time the Senate bill will pass. “A lot of people are caught
up in the emotion about reproductive cloning and the so-called ‘yukâ€™
factor, and theyâ€™re willing to grant Congress this power,” Pence
But biomedical and genetics researchers, and some Senate leaders, are concerned that a ban on all cloning
would deprive millions of sick people of potential cures. They support a different
bill that would ban human cloning research for the purpose of making babies
but allow it for developing new medical therapies.
Annas, Chair of the Boston University Health Law Department, supports
that measure. He agrees that reproductive cloning, the type that created the
late Dolly the Sheep, is wrong to attempt on humans, not to mention unsafe.
But he favors therapeutic cloning, which genetics scientists believe is a
promising new kind of medicine. Supporters of therapeutic cloning argue that
it has the potential for producing stem cells that could yield major scientific
breakthroughs in curing human diseases. Stem cells are cells that can develop
into any other cells in the body. Stem cells cloned from a person's own cells
would not be rejected by their immune system. Pence describes it as “a
potential to make my own medicine that would exactly match my body and wouldnâ€™t
be rejected by my immune system.”
Pence argues that banning any human cloning research, including research on
reproductive cloning, would be a mistake, and that no tool should be taken
off the table. “Basically I think itâ€™s a political move in part
to say that weâ€™re going to sacrifice reproductive cloning so we can
get embryonic [therapeutic] cloning.”
Cloned kids vs. medical revolution
While Annas favors separating reproductive and therapeutic cloning, one problem
is that both begin with the same first step—putting the DNA of
an adult body cell into an empty egg cell to create an embryo. “Once you have the embryos made,
people are afraid that someone will implant one of those embryos in a womanâ€™s
uterus and try to grow it up to be a child,” says Annas. But, he adds,
“I think you can make medicine without making children, that those are
two different things.”
Annas believes that, even if it were medically safe, there are other
reasons never to clone a child. “It would be treating the children
like products, like pets, and in a sense, depriving them of their human dignity.
"It would never be psychologically safe," he says. "It's the
harm of being made a duplicate and living under your parentsâ€™ expectations.
They cloned you just because they wanted a duplicate of that existing person.
That really makes cloning intolerable and an affront to human dignity."
Pence disagrees, pointing out that there was a similar debate over in-vitro
fertilization 25 years ago. "Many people made these outlandish predictions
about what test-tube babies were going to do to society," Pence says.
"They had not in any way thought through the practical steps. They didn't
realize how hard it was, how expensive, and how very, very few people would
ever be trying this. If you get practical about these things, all the fear
just kind of evaporates."
He also sees a double standard being applied by those who view reproductive
cloning as selfish. “People are pretending that every couple who wants
to create a child sexually sits down and says, ‘Oh yes, we want to have
a child now. Weâ€™re going to love it just for itself. Weâ€™ll have
no selfish motives at all in having this child.â€™ Nothing about ‘Do
I want somebody to care for me when I get older? Do I want something of myself
to continue? Do I want my genes to continue?â€™ I think thereâ€™s
a lot of hypocrisy when it comes to reproductive cloning.”
Pence acknowledges that today his view may not be a popular one, but he believes
we may eventually come to regret any ban on human cloning.