22 Jun Cloning ban too broad, stem-cell researchers argue
Madison, Wis. – A proposed state ban on all forms of human cloning has been approved by the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Children and Families and is headed for a full Assembly vote. State Republicans have put the legislation on a fast track with identical bills – SB 243 and AB 499 – that were introduced late last week. The legislation has drawn vigorous opposition from both the scientific community and biotechnology industry.
The ban if approved, would outlaw not only cloning for reproductive purposes, but also what proponents call therapeutic or research cloning. This is where an embryo is created with identical DNA as the original subject for the purposes of harvesting stem cells after the first several days of development, and the embryo is destroyed in the process.
The proposed penalties for violating the law would be up to ten years in prison and over one million dollars in fines. It is widely expected to be vetoed by Governor Jim Doyle.
Effects of the ban on research
Opponents of the ban have objected that it would place a chilling effect on scientific pursuits in Wisconsin, the same state that pioneered stem-cell research to begin with.
“It wouldn’t be immediate, because currently to the best of anyone’s knowledge, no one is engaged in the practice,” said Ron Kuehn, vice president of government relations for the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical Device Association. “But this could be the technology of the future, and if we have a statutory prohibition against it then the future may be denied us in research.”
Effects on the state’s image
” The only saving grace is they’ve decided to do this the week when most of the world’s biotech industries are clustered in one spot and otherwise preoccupied. So maybe they won’t notice it,” said Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still, who is attending the BIO 2005 conference in Philadelphia.
Still said Wisconsin banning research cloning would have no overall effect on the practice itself, but would simply send a bad message to the scientific community about Wisconsin and make sure research money flows elsewhere.
“I’m out here at BIO where there are 61 nations and 41 states are all competiting for biotech investments and saying that they welcome biotech industry in their state. It’s counter-productive for our policy makers to take steps that could make Wisconsin less attractive,” Still explained. “There are other places that would gladly welcome the kind of research that we do, and especially if some of our policy makers are intent on pushing it out the door.”
“If we’re chasing dollars with the intention of cloning embryos, all I can say is the public would say shame on us; that’s not what we want to do,” said state Rep. Steve Kestell, R-Elkhart Lake, the lead sponsor of the proposal. “Can we control what’s going to happen all over the world? Absolutely not. I think we do have a right, even a responsibility, to chart our own course and to control what we do.”
“The dialogue coming coming from the biotech industry and the UW is shameful,” said Susan Armacost, legislative director of Wisconsin Right to Life, a lead proponent of the ban. “They have not engaged in a public debate that is useful.”
Kestell echoed her sentiment, saying that officials from the university have distorted what his bill would actually do. The bill would not affect research on adult stem cells or embryonic stem cell lines left over from in vitro fertilization treatments, Kestell said, adding that he took care to make sure conventional stem cell research would remain unaffected.
A group of technology leaders including Still have proposed an amendment to the bill that would make a distinction between reproductive cloning and research cloning, with the former outlawed and the latter still permitted. It has yet to be determined if that compromise will be accepted.
Kestell rejects such an approach, arguing that embryonic cloning of any kind presents the same moral question regardless of the intent of the act and is a slippery slope that would inevitably lead to the implantation of cloned embryos in a manner that would not be traceable.
Furthermore, the moral distinction between reproductive and research cloning of embryos, if there is any to be found, is inverted for many pro-life activists such as Armacost.
“What they’re saying is that you would make it illegal to implant a cloned embryo into a woman’s body in order to bring it to term, but it’s perfectly alright to create them to destroy them for the use of research,” she said.
Potential uses of embryonic cloning
Embryonic research cloning would provide a new level of research into genetic diseases, said R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at UW-Madison. Charo argued cloning could go beyond conventional stem-cell research by providing the possibility of examining the DNA of pre-existing patients and perhaps in the future growing tissue specific to their bodies.
Charo believes this is morally indistinguishable from conventional stem-cell research. Current research is dependent on destroying pre-existing embryos that are left over from in vitro fertilization, which would have been destroyed anyway.
“Blastocysts have no sensation, no sense of self, no sense of past or future, no desire to continue. What we respect are the feelings of the people … who made them,” Charo argues. “And for that reason we need not consider the creation and destruction of the blastocyst as morally equivalent to the creation of a live-born child, whom we respect in and of itself.”