Chorus of Criticism Greets Council's Position on Cloning

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

( - The president's council on bioethics recently recommended a moratorium on human cloning in their Human Cloning and Human Dignity report, a move that seems to have satisfied no one.

Both cloning proponents and foes expressed frustration with a recommendation that urges Congress neither to ban human cloning nor give it a green light.

"Millions of Americans suffering from debilitating and often fatal diseases cannot tolerate a cruel and pointless four-year delay into research that holds out the promise of life-saving cures," said Doug Wick, a co-founder of CuresNow, an alliance of scientific, health, education, business and entertainment industry interests that want to keep legal so-called therapeutic cloning (also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT).

"Putting a four-year moratorium on therapeutic cloning is tantamount to stopping it altogether," he said.

But things could be worse, Wick suggested. "We are heartened that a substantial minority, 7 out of 17 members, of the council believes this research should go forward immediately," he said.

Currently, President Bush has forbidden federal tax dollars to fund any type of stem cell research that uses embryonic stem cells, whether derived from clones or otherwise. What's more, the House of Representatives has passed a total ban on cloning, for both reproductive or research purposes.

But Democratic leaders in the Senate, many of whom support cloning for research purposes, remain opposed to such a ban.

On July 12, Dr. Maxine Singer, former chief of the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Biochemistry and current president of the Carnegie Institution, presented the council on bioethics with a petition against a moratorium and against a ban on SCNT.

The petition is signed by 2,000 teachers and scientists and Nobel laureates in medical schools and university science departments across the country.

Calling the proposed ban "a blow to millions of Americans fighting life-threatening medical research," Singer said it's wrong to "criminalize" therapeutic cloning.

"Unfortunately, the council has chosen to join the opponents of therapeutic cloning," Singer said.

Richard Arvedon, the father of a five-year-old daughter with Type 1 diabetes, said the council should have included members of patient advocacy groups.

"If the council had included even one single advocacy group representing people with diabetes, spinal cord injury, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, or other incurable diseases, they might have realized that a moratorium has the same impact as a ban," Arvedon said.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also blasted the council's position, saying the government should instead regulate cloning. In the late 1970s, the ADA noted, Congress almost imposed a moratorium on research involving recombinant DNA.

Instead, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration now regulate such research that yields many life-saving products.

But the chief cloning foe in the Senate, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), seemed scarcely happier with the council's recommended ban.

"I am heartened that the council has endorsed a temporary ban on all human cloning," Brownback said. "If approved by Congress, I believe a temporary ban would give the country an important opportunity to further debate the issue of human cloning along with its ultimate impact upon humanity.

"Unfortunately," he added, "I do have some areas of disagreement with the bioethics

"In particular, I do not believe that we can separate the issue of human cloning into two different categories by making policy recommendations based on the intentions of the researcher," Brownback said. "Ultimately, all human cloning is reproductive."

"Cloned embryos are 100 percent human," said Carrie Gordon Earll, bioethics analyst for Focus on the Family, "just as Dolly the sheep is 100 sheep."

Cloned human embryos are "fully human and worthy of protection," said Earll, who labeled the council recommendation as merely "stopgap."

Pro-life groups like the Family Research Council and the Culture of Life Foundation point to other avenues of research that also hold potential for cures, like using adult stem cells and animal experimentation.

Most recently, for example, a Johns Hopkins University/Hamburg University study using rat neurons produced good results in treating spinal cord injuries. And a Scripps Research Institute study published in Science magazine found a way to kill blood vessels around tumors in mice, thus starving and killing the tumor.

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