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Opponent of Human Cloning Might Modify Plan for Ban

Science: Kansas senator raises the possibility of a two-year moratorium instead of complete halt.

June 12, 2002|AARON ZITNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The leading Senate opponent of human cloning said Tuesday that he might seek a two-year moratorium on the technique instead of a total ban, a move that would be a significant victory for scientific and patient-advocacy groups that want human cloning to remain a legal tool in the hunt for cures for disease.

While there is wide support for a ban on reproductive cloning, which would produce children, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) has introduced legislation to bar the technique for medical research as well. The House has already passed a ban on human cloning for any purpose, and President Bush has said that he would sign such legislation.

Opponents of cloning for medical research, often called therapeutic cloning, say it is immoral because it requires the creation and then destruction of human embryos.

Bush on Tuesday restated his opposition to human cloning in any form. ''We believe that a life is a creation, not a commodity, and that our children are gifts to be loved and protected, not products to be designed and manufactured by human cloning,'' the president said by satellite to a convention of Southern Baptists in St. Louis.

Two Senate aides said that Brownback, during a meeting of Senate Republicans, had stated his intention to abandon a total ban and instead seek a two-year moratorium. A third Senate aide cautioned that Brownback was only considering various options.

Still, Brownback's comments suggested that he had not garnered the 60 votes that, under the rules of the Senate, would likely be required for victory. ''He stated he needed to go to a lesser standard'' in hopes of gaining more support, said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), according to Associated Press.

Specter supports legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and others, that would allow scientists to create cloned embryos for research but bar transfer of a cloned embryo to a woman's womb to produce a child.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who also favors therapeutic cloning, said he is ''increasingly confident'' that a measure barring only reproductive cloning will win the required 60 votes.

However, it is unlikely that Bush or the House would accept a measure that puts a ban on reproductive cloning while preserving it for research.

The issue could come to the Senate floor as early as Friday, said Daschle, who controls the Senate calendar.

Supporters of therapeutic cloning denounced the idea of a moratorium and said they believe that it will not pass the Senate.

''A moratorium is a ban,'' said Sean Tipton, spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. ''What is attractive to opponents of cloning is that this would put a stop to the research, and so they could argue forever that it is an unproven technique.''

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said: ''A moratorium of a year or two may not seem like much to you and me, but it could mean the difference between life and death for a patient with Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cancer or many other serious disorders.''

The use of cloning techniques to cure disease has not been proved and at best is years away.

The vision is that a patient with faulty heart, brain or other cells could donate a single cell that through cloning could be transformed into millions of the healthy cells that the patient needs.

That transformation would require merging the patient's donated cell with an egg cell to produce an embryo, which would be dissected at age five days for its stem cells. Stem cells, in theory, can be grown into any cell or tissue of the body.

Cloning has created unusual political alliances. Most abortion opponents and social conservatives favor a total ban on cloning. They have been joined by several feminist and progressive groups, which argue that cloning is a step toward creating ''designer children'' with made-to-order traits and would exploit women by creating a market for human eggs.

At the same time, a leading abortion opponent, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), favors therapeutic cloning. He argues that a cloned embryo in a laboratory dish is not equivalent to a human embryo in the womb, and it is ethical to destroy laboratory embryos for research.

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