Thursday, February 20, 2003

Bill to ban cloning defeated

Ky. House vote a win for science

By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Proponents of human embryonic stem cell research scored a victory Wednesday as a House panel defeated a proposed ban on human cloning and, effectively, testing on the budding science.

The measure would have banned human cloning, but still allowed testing on adult stem cells - an area the bill's opponents say does not have as vast potential as embryonic stem cells.

Proponents of the ban said they were disappointed by the House Judiciary Committee's 7-9 vote against the bill.

Essentially, the proposal would have outlawed a scientific process that some say leads to early stages of human embryos. The so-called "activated eggs" could then be used for either cloning a human being or producing embryonic stem cells.

The House passed a similar version of the bill last year, but it stalled in the Senate. A different proposal that would prohibit human cloning, but allow for embryonic stem cell research is pending before the full House.

While researchers have made advances in testing on adult stem cells, scientists hope testing on human embryonic stem cells can lead to a cure for diabetes, improvements in spinal cord injuries and a host of other maladies, said Wendy Baldwin, vice president for research at the University of Kentucky.

"This bill would stop this research before it really got started," Baldwin said. "If you can't get the research started, you're never going to have a beneficial effect."

The debate centered on a philosophical disagreement between researchers and anti-abortion activists: Exactly when does life start?

Del Collins, UK's associate vice president for research, said that because the process would prohibit researchers from attaching a fertilized egg to a uterine wall it would not produce a human being.

But Dr. Walter Jones, a policy analyst for Family Foundation of Kentucky, said it is "grossly misleading" to say living human embryos are not produced and then destroyed through embryonic stem cell research.

"The truth still has not been allowed to come out in terms of what you are actually creating - which is life," Jones said. "In order to obtain the embryonic stem cells, you must have the embryo first."

Scott Wegenast, a policy analyst for the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, said the proposal would have still permitted research on adult stem cell research - a method he believes could lead to the same advances.

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