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Panel calls for ban on cloning to make humans
WASHINGTON -- The government should ban cloning aimed at making new human beings because it's unsafe for both mother and child, a scientific advisory panel said Friday.
Cloning to produce cells that promise to treat disease should be allowed, it said.
The recommendations came at the same time a separate White House advisory group was meeting to discuss the ethical questions surrounding all forms of cloning.
"Human reproductive cloning should not be practiced. It is dangerous and likely to fail," said Dr. Irving L. Weissman of Stanford University, chairman of the National Academy of Sciences panel that studied the issue.
Maxine Singer, president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, pointed out that in animal cloning experiments "only a small percentage of attempts are successful; many of the clones die during gestation, even in late stages; newborn clones are often abnormal or die and the procedures may carry serious risks for the mother."
On the other hand, the panel said, these risks are not associated with so-called therapeutic cloning, in which an embryo is developed to produce stem cells that can be used in medical treatment. Such an embryo would never be implanted in a woman.
Both types of cloning are opposed by President Bush and would be banned under a bill that has passed the House. The Senate is expected to take up the issue this year and there is considerable sentiment there to ban only reproductive cloning.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer reiterated the president's stand on Friday, quoting Bush as saying, "We should not, as a society, grow life to destroy it."
In London, meanwhile, an appeals court upheld regulations passed by Parliament last year which made Britain the first country to specifically authorize therapeutic cloning. Producing cloned babies remains outlawed there.
Despite the complexity of the issue the 11-member academy panel was unanimous in its recommendations, Weissman said. The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization that advises the government on scientific and technical issues.
Mark Siegler, a professor at the University of Chicago, said there "clearly was unease" in recommending a ban on a medical procedure, but committee members felt there were compelling reasons to do so.
The recommendation called for a review of any ban within five years.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization issued a statement saying it supported such a ban as long as it is limited to reproductive cloning.
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, a patient advocacy group, agreed, saying reproductive cloning is not justified but cloning to produce potentially lifesaving stem cells should go on.
At an academy committee hearing in August, some speakers claimed they were preparing to attempt human cloning.
On Friday Siegler said, "We have found that those who wish to undertake human cloning lack the fundamental biological knowledge, have failed to demonstrate safety in animals and lack testing methods to make it a safe course of action."