By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT - A bill aimed at outlawing human cloning while allowing university scientists to create human cells for medical research won approval from a House committee Wednesday.
The measure, which cleared the Judiciary Committee on a 12-5 vote, would outlaw cloning meant to create another human. Violators would be guilty of a felony punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison.
The bill would still allow a medical procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transplantation, in which researchers transfer the nucleus between cells to cultivate human tissue. Researchers would have to register with the state at least 30 days before doing such work.
Rep. Larry Clark of Louisville said his bill was modeled after legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by two Republican senators. Clark said his bill would achieve a balance by banning reproductive cloning while giving researchers the leeway to continue medical research.
"This legislation is about curing, it's not about cloning," said Clark, the second-ranking Democrat in the House.
The measure sparked debate between abortion opponents - who said the bill didn't go far enough - and officials from the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, who said stem-cell research could lead to breakthroughs in treating a series of incurable diseases.
The issue hits close to home because a researcher in Lexington, Panayiotis Michael Zavos, is part of a project to clone human embryos for infertile women. Zavos has said the cloning work is being done outside the United States. Zavos' name did not come up during the committee hearing.
In opposing the bill, abortion opponents saw no distinction between reproductive cloning and so-called "therapeutic" cloning.
Such medical research results in new human life, said the Rev. Thomas Smith, representing the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.
"The harvesting of stem cells produced in this fashion requires the destruction of new, existing embryonic human life, and as such is immoral to the ultimate degree," Smith said in a statement.
Michael Janocik, assistant director of Kentucky Right to Life Association, said the bill would provide a "firm legal foundation for a new industry based on the mass creation of cloned human embryos to be killed for research and commercial applications."
Rep. Charles Geveden, D-Wickliffe, said he had no moral or legal misgivings in supporting the bill. He said the bill promoted life by letting scientists pursue research that could lead to cures for diseases.
"I think this is pro-life because it can prolong life, it can improve the quality of life and it can save lives," Geveden said.
Del Collins, UK's associate vice president for research, said the stem-cell research is viewed by many medical experts as "the next great breakthrough in medical care."
Every day, people die while awaiting organ transplants, Collins said. He said stem-cell technology may someday be used to repair damaged organs. At UK, researching are pinning hopes on stem-cell research that could lead to a breakthrough to prevent Alzheimer's disease, he said.
Collins was critical of a competing anti-cloning bill that he said would prohibit such research. That bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee but was not called up Wednesday.
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