Red Light, Green Light: The California Cloning and Stem Cell Laws

Article excerpt

The recent signing of stem cell and reproductive cloning legislation by California Governor Gray Davis demonstrates, once again, that the Golden State is ahead of the regulatory pack. The legislation includes a permanent ban on reproductive cloning and an explicit endorsement of stem cell research. The stem cell bill thaws the federally induced chill on such research by opening up opportunities and state funds for study of multipotent and pluripotent stem cells, including those produced by nuclear transplantation.

Both pieces of legislation are rooted in the post-Dolly national debate about cloning. As that debate was reaching an impasse in 1997, California enacted a five-year moratorium on the use of cloning technology to produce a child.

As required by that legislation, California appointed a committee to evaluate the "medical, ethical and social implications" of human cloning. That panel--on which I served--spent over two years listening to specialists and members of the public discuss how the state ought to respond both to the potential to produce cloned human beings through somatic cell nuclear transplantation and to the budding use of this technique to produce human stem cells. The committee's report was delivered to Sacramento in January.

The committee's unanimous conclusion to ban reproductive cloning--cloning to produce a child for rearing--rested chiefly on profound concerns for the physical safety both of the baby produced and of the gestational mother. But reproductive cloning raises many other significant social and ethical problems, including confusing familial relationships, psychological harms to the DNA donor, and commercialization of the family. …