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U.S. lawmakers debate limits on human cloning

By Thurston Hatcher

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House believes all forms of human cloning should be banned, whether it's for reproduction or for medical research, an administration official told legislators Wednesday.

President Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson "make very clear they oppose any and all attempts to clone a human being," said Claude Allen, deputy secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Allen addressed members of a House subcommittee considering two bills that would restrict cloning. One would ban all forms of human cloning, while another would restrict cloning intended to create a pregnancy but allowing some research.

Without endorsing the more restrictive bill, Allen said embryos cloned for research could be used too easily for reproductive purposes.

"The administration believes it's in the best interest at this time to ban both research as well as reproductive cloning because the easy step that moves us across that line we all agree is reprehensible," Allen said.

Research benefits cited

Proponents of cloning for research cite potential benefits in treating spinal cord injuries or diseases such as muscular dystrophy and juvenile diabetes.

This isn't the first time Congress has addressed cloning:  

  • Cloning experts to tell House committee pros, cons  

  • House hearings turn skeptical eye on cloning  
    These organizations support human cloning efforts  

  • Clonaid  

  • Human Cloning Foundation  

  • Clone Rights United Front  
    How do scientists clone animals? Click here to find out  
    CNN's Elizabeth Cohen: Congressional hearings on human cloning  
  • France forbids human cloning  

  • In UK, call for ban on human cloning  
    Amid reports a woman may already bear the first human clone, a congressional panel considers a ban. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports (June 20)

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    "Too much is at risk to stop the research before its potential is fully understood," said Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

    "This is about allowing people who are in a coma to open their eyes and stand up and return to their families," said Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pennsylvania, a sponsor of the bill allowing research. "This is about allowing people who are paralyzed to walk again. That's what's at stake here.

    But legislators backing the broader measure were troubled by the research.

    "I'm just hopeful there are other ways to get to this research, something short of having to create a life and then destroy that life to help these very difficult circumstances," said Ed Bryant, R-Tennessee.

    Critic worries of `moral vacuum'

    Joseph Pitts, R-Pennsylvania, said banning only implantation of cloned embryos would be unenforceable.

    "While we want to encourage life-saving advances we must not let science advance in a moral vacuum," he said.

    Several experts representing the biotechnology industry, physicians and religious groups also appeared before the committee.

    Geron Corp. President Thomas Okarma, speaking on behalf of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, underscored the numerous benefits of human cloning research and expressed opposition to the all-out ban.

    "It will cut off this work and prevent its applications from reaching patients," he said.

    A federal moratorium currently bans the use of federal funding for research that attempts to create a child by cloning, technically known as somatic cell nuclear transfer.

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

    However, at least two groups of scientists have said they have plans to clone a human.

    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.

    • UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
    • Roslin Institute Online: Information on cloning and nuclear transfer
    • PhRMA Genomics: Cloning

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