Call for Cloning Ban Echoes under Capitol Domes ; Science Academy Urges Temporary Ban on Cloning Humans

Article excerpt

A quarter of a century ago, biologists met at a conference center in Pacific Grove, Calif., and took an unusual step. They agreed to temporarily halt experiments in the fledgling field of genetic engineering until the scientists could meet public concerns over the safety their efforts.

Twenty-seven years later, the National Academy of Science is recommending a more dramatic step that would temporarily close another arena of biotechnology in the United States. An academy panel has proposed unanimously that lawmakers outlaw cloning humans - at least for a limited period of time.

Current approaches to cloning are "dangerous and likely to fail," the panel concludes, threatening the foetus, the child, and the mother.

The panel said its report was not designed to tackle the ethical controversies surrounding cloning. But the call for a temporary ban on reproductive cloning could still factor prominently in that ethical debate - and hence in federal and state legislation.

Such a ban could strengthen the position of biomedical scientists as they argue for the freedom to clone human embryos for medical research.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) strongly supports the use of cloned embryos to produce stem cells for research - a position the panel reaffirmed. Meanwhile few medical scientists see any value to cloning humans, but some private groups are interested in pressing ahead on the controversial practice.

The report recommends that the scientific and medical concerns surrounding human cloning should be reviewed within five years of the ban's enactment.

The panel said the ban should be lifted only if cloning procedures are found safe and effective and if the public appears willing to reconsider it.

Legislation coming

As early as next month, the Senate is expected to open debates over bills to ban human cloning. The House passed similar legislation last July. In addition, 15 states face their own legislative battles this year on the issue.

The report also comes at a time when the Bush administration is seeking guidance on the ethics of cloning. …