Image: JOSE B. CIBELLI
PRIMATE NERVE CELLS derived from stem cells growing in culture look like normal nerve cells.
Legislative activities threaten to stand in the way of the medical benefits that therapeutic cloning could provide. On July 31, 2001, the House of Representatives voted for a broad ban on human cloning that would not only prohibit the use of cloning for reproduction but would also prohibit cloning for research purposes, such as to derive stem cells that could be used in therapies. The legislation, which was sponsored by Representatives David Weldon (R-Fla.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), would carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison and fines of $1 million for anyone who generates cloned human embryos. An amendment introduced by Representative Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.) that would have allowed therapeutic cloning failed. (Greenwood has his own pending bill on the subject that would outlaw only reproductive cloning.) Such laws would affect all scientists in the U.S., not only those working with government funding.
The Weldon/Stupak bill has now been referred to the Senate, which is expected to take up the issue in early 2002. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who has also introduced a bill, opposes human cloning for any purpose. He tried to add amendments banning human cloning to the fiscal 2002 spending bill for the Department of Health and Human Services last November. Such measures face an uphill battle, however, in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The Bush administration supports a total cloning ban and has endorsed the Weldon/Stupak bill.
The matter of human cloning is also being taken up once again by the U.K. Parliament. In 2000 the U.K. altered its Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990 to specifically allow human therapeutic cloning. But last November antiabortion activists succeeded in having the provision struck down on the grounds that cloning does not involve an embryo created by the union of an egg and a sperm and therefore cannot be included under the act.
In a related issue, last August President George Bush barred the use of federal funds for research involving stem cells derived from embryos, including those generated using cloning. The bar permits federally funded scientists to experiment only with stem cell cultures, or lines, created before the August announcement. But many scientists have criticized the quality and availability of these stem cell lines. Others claim that without cloning, stem cells have no promise, because they would probably be rejected as foreign by a patients immune system. Legislative attempts by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in November that would have allowed scientists to use government money to make new stem cell lines were squelched when Brownback threatened to counter with a total ban on human stem cell research.
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