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House members open hearings on human cloning

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress opened hearings into the possibility of human cloning Wednesday as House subcommittee members warned advocates they faced a skeptical audience.

Rep. James Greenwood, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, opened the hearing by citing Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel "Brave New World" -- a cautionary tale about a world of mass-produced humans.

"The possible cloning of human beings is now not relegated to the world of fiction, and the question to the world is this -- what should we do with this science?" asked Greenwood, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

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He acknowledged that there are arguments in favor of human cloning, but said those arguments "must be examined with a substantial dose of healthy skepticism."

Former University of Kentucky professor Panayiotis Zavos said in January he planned to clone a human within a year. A religious group called the Raelian Movement announced in August that its company, Clonaid, also would make the attempt. Both Zavos and Clonaid director Brigitte Boisselier were scheduled to testify at Wednesday's hearing.

Currently, 12 nations ban human cloning. Louisiana Republican Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the full Energy and Commerce committee, said the process "raises scientific, medical, moral and ultimately policy questions that we as a people must confront."

Opponents argue that the science is not advanced enough to clone a human safely. They cite the high incidence of miscarriages, birth defects and other health problems in animals that have been cloned.

Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat from Illinois, bluntly told witnesses that "human cloning must be banned now and forever." He and others raised practical and moral arguments against it, raising the possibility of new discrimination based on genetics.

mice
The cloned mouse on the right became obese as an adult for no apparent reason. Experts say cloned animals often develop abnormalities  

"Even if cloning begins with a benign purpose, it could lead to scientific categories of superior and inferior people," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Republican from Florida.

Boisselier in particular could face tough questions from the subcommittee: The Raelians believe life on Earth was created through genetic engineering by extraterrestrials.

Boisselier said 50 members of the movement have volunteered to carry the clone of a dead 10-month-old boy. One of these women is Boisselier's daughter, Marina Cocolios, 24.

A federal moratorium now bans the use of federal funding for any research that attempts to create a child by cloning, technically known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. Leadoff witness Thomas Okarma, president of biotechnology company Geron Corporation, urged that current restrictions should be kept.

"It is simply too dangerous technically, and raises too many ethical and moral questions," Okarma told the subcommittee.

Legally, few laws exist to stop scientists from cloning a human. Only four U.S. states -- California, Michigan, Louisiana and Rhode Island -- ban any type of cloning research, both publicly and privately funded. Twelve nations worldwide have banned human cloning.

Many scientists around the world are abiding by a self-imposed moratorium on cloning humans and several countries have laws that forbid cloning.

In the more than three years since scientists in Britain cloned the sheep Dolly, other researchers have successfully cloned sheep, cows, goats, pigs and mice. But the success rate is still low.

Scientists made 277 attempts before Dolly was born. Cloning cattle has proven equally difficult: About 90 percent of the embryos die in the first trimester.

"Over 100 embryos may produce one baby, and it can have problems," said Ryuzo Yanagimachi, a biologist at the University of Hawaii. "We don't know why ... we must find this out first in animals."

Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, insisted "if you go to the likes of Dr. Zavos, he will give you a dead baby, a defective baby or a deformed baby. "

Neal Furst, professor of animal science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison added, "If you read the animal data carefully, one would be reluctant to go do humans on the basis of the problems that can occur in the pregnancies."

CNN Medical Producer Miriam Falco and CNN.com Writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Italian doctor defends human cloning
March 22, 2001
Cardinal blasts cloning plans
March 10, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Clonaid
Roslin Institute: Information on Cloning and Nuclear Transfer
PhRMA Genomics: Cloning
International Biorthics Committee
National Human Genome Research Institute
Human Cloning Foundation
Clone Rights United Front
Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy

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