Bills to Ban Human Cloning Multiply in States

Clonaid claimed in December 2002 to have created the first human clone. The self-described human cloning company and religious sect hasn't proven their feat, but they succeeded in breeding new state legislation to ban the practice.

Legislators in 21 states have introduced 47 bills since the start of 2003 that would outlaw human cloning for reproductive or research purposes. At the national level, the House approved a bill to ban cloning, but the Senate has left the issue on the back burner.

"In the absence of a ban by the federal government states are acting on the issue," said Indiana state Sen. Patricia Miller (R-Indianapolis). Miller, whose cloning bill recently won Senate approval, would make cloning a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison or a $10,000 fine.

Since 2001, the number of state bills introduced to prohibit cloning has more than quadrupled, said Alissa Johnson, a policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

"The issue is back on the radar screen because of an extraterrestrial, rather outlandish claim," said Patrick Kelly, vice president for state government relations at theBiotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), a trade association in Washington, D.C. This often-emotional debate has triggered world leaders from President Bush to Pope John Paul II to condemn human cloning.

Johnson said the Clonaid claim might have brought "a greater urgency" to the cloning issue, but is not the sole factor behind new legislation in the states.

Lawmakers' debates over cloning focus on two different uses of the procedure: reproductive' cloning and therapeutic' cloning, which is used for stem cell research that proponents say has the potential to help find cures for diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes and types of cancer.

Opponents of cloning often cite ethical issues and say cloning equates to abortion because embryos are destroyed in the process. Many proponents of research cloning advocate control over cloning through penalties and fines.

Oklahoma state Rep. Bill Graves (R-Oklahoma City) said the bill he's sponsoring to ban all cloning won't make it out of committee this session due to time constraints, but he hopes to attach it to a vehicle bill in the Senate.

"I think that cloning is playing God. If we need more people we can stop aborting people. It's bizarre and not something we should be doing, it's a Frankenstein type of thing," Graves said. In cloning, a copy of genetic material is made through somatic cell nuclear transfer' (SNT). The nucleus of an egg cell is replaced with the nucleus of an adult one. The egg cell can then be developed into an embryo for reproduction or used to derive stem cells for research, according to NCSL.

Many of the ethical and scientific concerns surrounding cloning surfaced in 1997 when Scottish scientists unveiled the world's first cloned animal; Dolly, a sheep. At Dolly's arrival many state lawmakers scurried to introduce bills to ban the procedure, but only California passed a ban on reproductive cloning that year.

Since then other animals have been cloned, but no humans. Dolly was euthanized last month because of premature ageing, which opponents say illustrates the potential dangers of cloning.

The cloning issue waned at the state level after initial bills fueled by Dolly were introduced, BIO's Kelly said, although lawmakers in five states have since passed restrictions on human cloning.

Iowa and Michigan prohibit all cloning and Louisiana, Rhode Island and Virginia ban reproductive cloning. Missouri prohibits the use of state funds for cloning research.

So far this year, bills to ban cloning have passed one legislative body in four states Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey and North Dakota.

In contrast, lawmakers in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Washington have introduced measures to specifically permit stem cell research. But NCSL's Johnson said that doesn't reflect the majority of state action.

As debates play out in Statehouses, the issue is also being addressed nationally. For the second year in a row, a bill to ban all human cloning passed the House, this time by a vote of 241 to 155.

But a companion measure in the Senate, sponsored by Senators Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and endorsed by Bush, faces an uncertain future because other cloning measures are circulating Senate committees.

The full Senate won't consider the cloning issue for at least a few months, a Brownback aide said. The Brownback legislation, which will be debated in the Senate health committee, has taken a back seat to smallpox and bio-terrorism measures.

Some lawmakers say a cloning ban, which never made it to the Senate floor for consideration last year, might fare better with a Republican majority and physician Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) as Senate leader. Frist has previously supported a ban on cloning.

Tags: Justice, Health