Senators prepare bill to permit cloning
By Victoria Griffith in Boston
Published: January 14 2003 1:27 | Last Updated: January 14 2003 1:27,

Senators will introduce a bill as early as Wednesday that would ban human reproductive cloning but allow such research to continue for medical purposes, a move that may break the Congressional stalemate on the controversial topic.

The bill’s introduction, to be announced at a bi-partisan press conference, comes as a surprise to many who believed that backers of a total ban would be the first to file cloning legislation this year. President George W.Bush has said outlawing cloning is one of his priorities and senators in favour of a complete ban indicated this month that they were preparing a new bill.

“It’s odd that supporters of a total ban would allow the other side to steal the thunder,” says Michael Werner, vice-president of bioethics for the Biotechnology Industry Organisation.

The recent announcement that the Raelian cult had cloned the first human children, while widely believed to be a hoax, has raised public fears that such a breakthrough is imminent. All US legislators want a ban on reproductive cloning. Yet the Senate has been split over the issue of “therapeutic cloning”, which would allow the cloning of human embryos just a few days old in order to harvest prized stem cells.

Only the stem cells of very young embryos have the ability to produce tissue in the body. Scientists hope to use the technology to cure a wide range of diseases, from Alzheimer’s to diabetes.

A total ban passed the House of Representatives last year but similar legislation stalled in the Senate, where neither side of the issue was able to garner sufficient support to win a vote. Views on cloning do not split neatly along party lines. Republican Orrin Hatch, along with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, are sponsors of the bill to allow cloning for medical research.

Even so, the loss of Senate seats held by Democrats Jean Carnhan, Max Cleland, and Paul Wellstone may have thrown additional support behind a total ban. The House reintroduced a total ban last week. Those in favour of a complete ban include opponents of abortion as well as some who argue that allowing therapeutic cloning research to proceed could boost the chances that someone will clone a human baby.

American researchers have more liberty to pursue cloning research than in Britain. The US was among the opponents of last year’s United Nations proposal to implement an international ban on reproductive cloning.