WASHINGTON, D.C.--After 6 hours of debate, the House of Representatives on 31 July voted overwhelmingly to outlaw any cloning of human beings--including so-called therapeutic cloning. The vote marks the latest chapter in this year's raging debate over the use of embryonic stem cells in research.
The bill, sponsored by Dave Weldon (R-FL), carries penalties of up to 10 years in prison and million-dollar fines for anyone who creates a human clone or engages in traffic with any product derived from such cloning. Weldon and others cautioned that failure to ban all cloning would lead to "stockpiling" of human embryos, and that it would be impossible to prevent some from being implanted in would-be mothers. Republicans with few exceptions supported Weldon, and a lot of Democrats--including supporters of embryonic stem cell research--also sided with a total ban, resulting in a lopsided vote of 265 to 162.
In a separate vote the House also resoundingly rejected an amendment, sponsored by James Greenwood (R-PA) and Peter Deutsch (D-FA), that would outlaw reproductive cloning but permit therapeutic cloning. This entails using the technique that created Dolly the sheep to spawn embryonic stem cells with a patient's own genetic material, a step that scientists say is necessary to prevent rejection of tissues. "Without therapeutic cloning there is no way to move stem cell research from the lab to the doctor's office," said Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA). Defenders of the Greenwood-Deutsch alternative pointed out that the Weldon bill could prevent Americans from benefiting from drugs developed in countries that permit therapeutic cloning.
The next phase of the drama probably won't unfold until after Congress returns from its August recess. A Senate companion bill to the Weldon measure, sponsored by Sam Brownback (R-KS), is currently sitting in the Judiciary Committee and has not yet been scheduled for action. Observers believe the Democrat-controlled Senate is in no great hurry to confront the issue.