Pro-lifers Hail U.S. House Vote to Ban Human Cloning

Canada Considering a Similar Prohibition

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WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 1, 2001 ( Pro-lifers applauded a bipartisan vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to approve a sweeping ban on human cloning. But the legislation´s fate in the Senate was uncertain.

«This is a major victory for the sanctity of human life,» said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, late Tuesday. «The bipartisan vote in the House tonight has sent Frankenstein packing. We now urge the U.S. Senate to do the same.»

The vote seemed to have a ripple effect across the border. The Canadian government announced today that it is seeking a broad ban on human cloning similar to that approved by the U.S. House — but one that would allow controversial stem cell research on human embryos.

U.S. House members grappled for more than three hours over the issue of human cloning before voting, 265 to 162, to approve the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2001.

It would impose tough criminal and civil penalties on anyone violating the ban — including scientists who create cloned human cells solely for research purposes.

The penalties make participation in human cloning in any way subject to a felony conviction that could bring a 10-year prison term and, if done for profit, civil penalties of more than $1 million. Critics said the penalties could create a brain drain of scientists leaving to work abroad.

A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. But it is not clear if Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, who has said he opposes cloning «under virtually any circumstances,» will bring the measure to the floor.

President George W. Bush has strongly backed the complete ban.

«By a overwhelming bipartisan vote, the House has acted to block the creation of human embryo farms — but the bio-tech firms will begin this ghoulish industry soon, unless the Senate also acts,» said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, according to a report by the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation.

House members expressed universal opposition to reproductive cloning — the production of a cloned baby. But they were divided over whether human cells should be cloned solely to be used for the research and treatment of disease, a practice euphemistically called therapeutic cloning.

A narrower, competing amendment that would have allowed cloning for research was defeated, 249 to 178.

The intense debate on human cloning centered on a key issue: When does life begin?

As lawmakers gave their answers, many supporters of a ban on any form of human cloning talked about a vision of the future that not long ago would have seemed like science fiction: farms of human embryos, questions about the rights of cloned embryos, and parents producing designer children.

Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, argued that even allowing research would be a «slippery slope.»

«Some argue that cloning humans is the key that will unlock the door to the medical advancements of the 21st century,» he said. «Nothing could be further from the truth.»

Backers of a limited ban rejected that view as an «excessive fear of science and the possibility of scientific research.» Instead, they recalled that most new inventions of medicine have been greeted with skepticism and even outrage.

The science involved in cloning is closely linked to stem cell research — the subject of national debate in recent weeks as President Bush has considered his long-awaited decision on federal funding.

Stem cells make up the earliest form of life of a human being, and they have the power to become nearly any other type of cell or tissue in the body. Some scientists want to be able to use them to grow new organs and other body parts. Opponents deplore the idea, noting that human lives are deliberately destroyed in the process.

Unlike embryos created naturally when egg meets sperm, a clone would be created if an unfertilized egg were to be stripped of its DNA and infused with another person´s genetic material. Some scientists say stem cell research on cloned cells may offer the best hope for developing successful replacement body parts — a prospect rejected as «ghoulish» by opponents.

«It would reduce some human beings to the level of an industrial commodity,» said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican. «It is an exploitative, unholy technique that is no better than medical strip-mining.»

Meanwhile, in Canada, Catherine Lappe, spokeswoman for Health Minister Allan Rock, contended that the government´s bid to ban cloning but allow stem cell research achieved «the appropriate balance.»

Last Friday, the Russian government passed a ban on human cloning for five years, the Xinhua News Agency reported. The decision was made during a Cabinet meeting in Moscow.

In the U.S. House, the vote Tuesday came down to sensitivity about creating any human life form with the intent of wiping it out. «Remember, the purpose is to destroy [these embryos], and that assumes that embryos days old are not lives at all,» said Representative Lee Terry, a Nebraska Republican. «No matter how good the intention, this type of scientific experimentation endangers the very fabric of our society.»

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