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House Votes to Outlaw Human Cloning; Ban Includes Research

February 28, 2003|Aaron Zitner | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Revisiting one of the most emotionally charged issues in science, the House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to outlaw human cloning, including use of the technique to study diseases and potential cures.

The vote was a decisive 241 to 155, and the measure has strong support from President Bush. Its prospects are uncertain, however, as even supporters of the sweeping ban say they have not gathered enough votes to win passage in the Senate.

Two years ago, the House approved a comprehensive ban, 265 to 162. The measure was never taken up by the Senate, where it faced strong competition from a proposal to preserve cloning for research while banning it to produce children.

In three hours of sometimes testy debate Thursday, House members grappled with such thorny questions as when an embryo is considered a human being and whether it is moral to use early forms of human life for research.

Cloning would be "the most ghoulish and dangerous enterprise in human history," said Rep. Sue Wilkins Myrick (R-N.C.). But others said it would be inhumane to close the door to potential cures for disease.

The Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2003, sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) and others, would set a jail term of up to 10 years and civil fines of $1 million or more for anyone who performed or tried to perform human cloning for any purpose.

Cloning produces an embryo with essentially the same genes as an existing person. Lawmakers are unified in calling for a ban on the technique when the intent is to grow the cloned embryo into a child.

But divisions have arisen over whether scientists should be able to produce and then destroy cloned embryos for research purposes, a practice known as therapeutic cloning. Some scientists envision a day when cloning would produce stem cells and other materials for transplants that could cure diabetes, Parkinson's disease, spinal-cord injuries or other ailments.

"Stem-cell research is no different than the discovery of penicillin.... It is simply the next step in modern medicine," said Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas), who spoke of his pain at losing his mother to Parkinson's disease.

Supporters of a ban countered with a disturbing view of research cloning, envisioning, as Rep. Todd W. Akin (R-Mo.) put it, "some sort of brave new world that none of us wants to find ourselves in ... a world in which parts of human beings are like parts in a junkyard."

They also said it was immoral to create human life only to destroy it, and that research using cells from adults was more moral and more productive. They also warned that a ban on cloning was the only way to stop groups such as the Raelians, a Canadian sect that claims to have produced several cloned children.

The dispute over research cloning is so sharp that no bill may pass Congress, leaving the United States as one of the few industrialized nations with no ban on reproductive cloning.

In the House vote, 42 Democrats joined 198 Republicans and one independent in supporting the ban. Against it were 139 Democrats and 16 Republicans.

"Today's resounding bipartisan vote in the House demonstrates concern for the profound moral and social issues posed by human cloning," President Bush said in a statement. "We must advance the promise and cause of medical science, including through ethical stem-cell research, yet we must do so in ways that respect human dignity and help build a culture of life."

California representatives divided almost exclusively along party lines; Republicans -- with the exception of Doug Ose (Sacramento) -- supported the ban and Democrats were against it. Not voting were Joe Baca (D-San Bernardino), Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Carson), Gary G. Miller (R-Diamond Bar), Loretta Sanchez (D-Anaheim) and Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).

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