20 May Public Hearing Held for controversial anti-cloning bills
The hearings are being held to solicit public sentiment on Assembly Bill 104 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 45. The bills were introduced to the state legislature in February.
AB104 prohibits human cloning and parthenogenesis (the process of manipulating the genetic material of a human oocyte without introducing into the oocyte the genetic material from any other cell, in a way that causes the oocyte to become a human embryo). It also prohibits “transferring or acquiring a human embryo produced by human cloning or parthenogenesis and transferring or acquiring any embryo, cell, tissue, or product derived from a human embryo produced by human cloning or parthenogenesis.”
One proponent of the bill said that while he doesn’t want to come off as a radical, he wants to nip any manipulation with embryos in the bud, lest certain scientists run down the path unchecked.
“You start going down that slope, and away you go,” said Rep. Mark Pettis, R-Hertel, a co-sponsor of the bill. “The sled picks up steam.”
“Anything that we can do to prohibit man from tinkering with God’s work, it needs to be done,” he said. “I’ve got some big concerns about going down that road; I really do.”
The twin bills go far beyond the issue of cloning people, opponents say. If passed as law, AB104 would strike a harsh blow to stem cell research in the state that pioneered it under the work of Dr. James Thomson at UW-Madison. Thomson’s WiCell Research Institute in Madison spends $2 million annually on stem cell research.
“We think it sends a terrible message to scientists and investment firms and companies looking at stem cell research coming to Wisconsin,” said Andrew Cohn, spokesman for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. According to Cohn, such legislation would shut the door on therapeutic cloning of stem cells, which is one of the techniques being contemplated for treatment of afflictions such as Parkinson’s disease, Cohn said. While UW researchers are not using therapeutic cloning right now, they may want to in the future if that’s the direction the research goes.
As for creation of embryos strictly for use in research, the UW is not doing that now, and “we don’t contemplate it happening in the future,” Cohn said.
“The protocols all involve excess embryos from in-vitro fertilization that were going to be destroyed anyway,” Cohn said. A recent study reported that some 400,000 embryos are in cold storage at in vitro clinics nationwide.
Gov. Jim Doyle already has lobbed a pre-emptive strike in threatening to veto any legislation that would restrict advancement of stem cell research in Wisconsin. A group called the Wisconsin Coalition to Support Stem Cell Research (WCSSCR) stands behind the governor on such measures.
“Stem cell research has the potential to grow our economy—to create good, high-paying jobs and further the development of the biotech industry in Wisconsin,” Doyle said at a recent news conference. “As governor, I will do everything in my power to promote Wisconsin’s leadership in this promising field, foster the growth of this important industry, protect our great universities, and help us maximize their usefulness as economic growth engines.”
A leading voice for biotech research in Wisconsin wants to draw the line further toward the middle of the fray. Jim Leonhart, executive vice president of the
“Basically the point of view is that we think that there is considerable value in therapeutic research and looking for new lifesaving measures and generally stopping at that point,” said Leonhart, a non-attorney member of the public policy practice group at the Madison law firm of DeWitt Ross & Stevens, which houses the Wisconsin Biotechnology Association. “We’re not anxious to see human beings cloned, but we think there is a line between human cloning and therapeutic cloning, and that’s where we’ve been.
“We don’t see production of embryos as something that needs to happen, but we did support the fact that this line of stem cells has been available, and that research could be performed on those, he said. “And we’re quite hopeful that there’s an opportunity that other adult cells could be used in this research eventually. There are great signals that that could happen, which could reduce a great amount of the concern.”
Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council commented on the proposed legislation. “It would have a chilling effect on some of the cutting-edge research in stem cells that really originated here at UW-Madison. It very directly would affect investment in that research. When government puts up barriers to intellectual discovery, what you get is less discovery and less interest in transferring those innovations to the marketplace.”
“I think it is of course right and proper to have ethical concerns about cloning, whether it be human reproductive cloning or therapeutic cloning,” Still said. “I think there are ethical concerns on the balance side if therapeutic cloning is barred.”
Lincoln Brunner is a Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at Lincoln@wistechnology.com