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States Hurry to Block Plans to Clone Humans

Science: Several legislatures act as Congress debates the practice. One bill would let clones sue doctors.

January 17, 2002|AARON ZITNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The first human clone has not yet been born and may never be. But Jim Kallinger is thinking ahead. The Florida state legislator last week filed a bill to give cloned children the right to sue the scientists who create them, seeking money to cover living expenses, medical costs and emotional damages.

In Wisconsin, sponsors of a broad anti-cloning bill claim support from 41 of the 99 members of the state Assembly. In Kentucky, a committee of the state House on Wednesday approved a bill to ban human cloning.

State anti-cloning bills, which are also on the agenda in California, Massachusetts, Colorado and elsewhere, are a measure of the broad national unease with the prospect of human cloning. But they also reflect another fear: that Congress will fail to act.

There is strong support in Washington for a ban on cloning to produce children. But the House last year voted to bar it as a tool of disease research as well.

Some senators, by contrast, say a ban should not cover researchers who aim to produce cloned embryos for their stem cells--the medically valuable cells that may help cure a range of diseases.

With a Senate vote expected within weeks, a new bioethics advisory panel appointed by President Bush will put cloning at the top of its agenda when it holds its first meeting today. The White House announced the 17 members of the panel Wednesday. Although the council has no regulatory powers, its deliberations could influence Congress.

Still, some state officials fear that federal legislation may sink altogether. "I'd rather be safe than sorry. Who knows how long it will take Congress to push a law through?" said Kallinger, a Republican from the Orlando area.

"Who's to say there's not a cloned embryo in a womb somewhere in the country now, and a clone is going to be born?" he said. "I don't think we're looking at science fiction anymore."

Kentucky state Rep. Joseph Fischer, a Republican and sponsor of a measure to ban human cloning for any purpose, said Kentucky has to be prepared in case the courts rule that cloning is a matter for state and not federal regulation. Fischer noted that the Supreme Court has said Congress had no authority to ban guns near schools because the issue does not involve interstate commerce.

In Washington, conservative groups are trying to build pressure for a quick Senate vote on the House's broad cloning ban. Some are lobbying Bush to use his State of the Union address Jan. 29 to call on senators to pass the House measure.

A new anti-cloning group, led by Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard magazine, says it is trying to raise money for advertisements supporting the House's total ban. The ads would run in the states of undecided senators.

Prospects in the Senate are uncertain, in part because cloning is so new. "With most issues, there are well-established battle lines," said Kristol, whose group is called Stop Human Cloning. "People have well-defined points of view. But this is an issue of first impression in politics. . . . I think it's a very fluid situation."

Fourteen senators are sponsoring legislation to ban cloning completely. Violators would face jail terms of up to 10 years and fines of $1 million.

Ten senators have said they want to allow cloning in disease research and treatment, often called therapeutic cloning, while banning it to produce children. They include California's Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both Democrats.

The two sides may be irreconcilable.

Research and patient-advocacy groups envision a day when a patient would be cloned to produce an embryo, which would be dissected at about five days of age for its stem cells. The stem cells, in turn, would be grown into heart, brain or other tissue that matches the patient's genes exactly, avoiding the tissue rejection problems that are common in organ transplants.

Scientists face a variety of hurdles in creating a cloning-based cure for disease, but some are hopeful. "A ban on therapeutic cloning would delay the discovery of potentially life-saving treatments," said Chis Paladino of the National Health Council, which represents 120 patient advocacy groups and disease-related charities.

Opponents say it is wrong to allow scientists to create human life only to destroy it, even to help ailing patients.

Bush's new bioethics advisory council is led by Dr. Leon Kass, a doctor and bioethicist who favors a total ban on human cloning. They include an eminent political scientist from UCLA, professor emeritus James Q. Wilson.

Also on the panel are theologians, lawyers and scientists.

One prominent bioethicist, Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, said the panel includes "many smart people," but appears weighted toward a conservative view of cloning, stem cell research and other controversial elements of biotechnology.

"This president is pro-life, anti-cloning and anti-stem cell research, and this group will do nothing to shake up those views," Caplan said.

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