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Senate unlikely to act soon on call to ban human cloning
WASHINGTON -- Despite a White House call for Congress to outlaw human cloning, Senate leaders don't plan to bring up the issue again until next year.
While some anti-abortion Republicans want at least a temporary ban put into law, members in both parties said they don't expect action by the Senate before Congress adjourns this year.
"A lot of senators want time to think through all the medical and scientific issues involved," said Doug Hattaway, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Many lawmakers returning from the Thanksgiving recess denounced Sunday's announcement by a Massachusetts company that scientists had cloned a six-cell human embryo. But they also acknowledged swift action to halt the fast-moving research is unlikely.
"The Senate never acts immediately, very seldom," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. "And I don't think it should in this area because this has profound applications."
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., held out the threat of trying to delay other bills. But he acknowledged that the most he hoped to get was a temporary ban.
"We don't know who else in the country is working on the issue of human cloning. Let's stop this for a few months, let's pause for a short period of time," Brownback said Tuesday.
President Bush appealed to Congress to act.
"The use of embryos to clone is wrong," Bush said. "We should not, as a society, grow life to destroy it, and that's exactly what is taking place."
Hope for understanding
A top scientist at the company where the cloning was done said Tuesday he was surprised at Bush's strong reaction.
"I hope, eventually, he'll be able to understand," said Dr. Jose Cibelli of Advanced Cell Technology.
Cibelli said he considers cloning for purposes of human reproduction too dangerous, but believes cloning an embryo to create beneficial cells raises the possibility of saving thousands of lives.
The House, by a vote of 265-162, passed a ban on cloning in July, after attempts by some lawmakers to exempt research. The issue was raised in the Senate this month but a showdown was avoided after leaders promised extensive hearings next spring.
Advanced Cell Technology, based in Worcester, Mass., said it hopes to develop genetically compatible replacement cells for patients with a range of illnesses -- but not human clones.
The issue delves into the thorny debate of stem cells, which are taken from embryos and can grow into various kinds of tissue. Supporters argue that embryos used in stem cell research -- even cloned ones -- are not yet humans. Opponents disagree.
President Bush tackled the issue in August by issuing a policy that restricts federally financed stem cell research to the 64 stem cell lines administration officials said already exist. Those stem cell lines were from embryos created by in vitro fertilization. Cloned embryos would not qualify under the Bush policy.
'A horrendous thing'
Proponents of cloning have argued that by developing stem cells from a patient, there is less likelihood of rejection from a body's immune system. They add that Congress can ban human cloning without limiting research.
"It really is a horrendous thing to stop this research," said Rep. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., the author of an unsuccessful House bill that would have permitted cloning for research. "These people are treating this issue the way they treated Copernicus and Galileo."
Rep. Peter Deutsch of Florida, the Democratic sponsor with Greenwood, added, "Research ... is a critical component for cures."
Critics argue that even a cloned embryo is human.
"To manufacture a human being is a terrible human rights abuse," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. "Mad scientists are still mad scientists no matter how white their lab coats are and how many bioethicists they hire to justify their actions."
The Vatican also commented, issuing a statement that said, "The beginning of human life cannot be fixed by convention at a certain stage of embryonic development; it takes place, in reality, already at the first instant of the embryo itself."
Company researchers say they cloned the embryo by starting with a donated female egg cell. They removed its nucleus and replaced it with a cumulus cell, complete with its genetic DNA. Cumulus cells normally help nurture eggs as they develop.
In a separate experiment, the researchers say they were able to develop a more advanced embryo, known as a blastocyst, in a process known as parthenogenesis. They bathed an egg cell with chemicals that changed its concentration of charged particles, reprogramming it to form an embryo.
The clones did not live past the six-cell stage. A normal embryo would have to grow several hundred cells before it created stem cells.