Panel Debates Ban on Human Cloning Research

Article excerpt

An uneasy mix of science and politics bubbled up Wednesday on Capitol Hill as senators heard from Ian Wilmut, the sheep-cloning pioneer, and considered the potential impact that his work could have on humans.

Already, Sen. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., has introduced a bill that would ban federal spending on research for the reproduction of humans through cloning.

". . . Human cloning is something we as a society cannot and should not tolerate," Bond told a Senate committee Wednesday. "There are aspects of life that should be off-limits to science." Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, agreed that human cloning should be prohibited, while ensuring that research on animals can continue fully. "I personally can't see any reason why we should wish to copy a person," he testified. He added that the prospect was not imminent, noting that it took him 10 years and 277 attempts to clone one sheep, the now-famous "Dolly." Wilmut said the immediate benefits from cloning would be in the treatment of human disease. He expects that within two to three years, cattle will be bred to produce milk with proteins to treat diseases such as emphysema and cystic fibrosis. Studies using cloned animals also will lead to better study of genetic diseases, he said. In the long term, the procedure might make it possible to treat disease by removing cells from a sick person, "reprogramming" the cells and replacing them, he said. Harold E. Varmus, director of the National Institutes of Health, said h e worried that a premature, broad legislative ban might stall such research. He said legislation could be interpreted to prevent research into cell transfers that could fight illnesses. Twenty years ago, he said, similar concerns were expressed about the cloning of DNA, the genetic code that transmits hereditary patterns in living matter. The ensuing research has resulted in a flourishing biotechnology industry. Varmus' worry about halting research was echoed by some senators on the panel. Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., said human cloning was "a fairly easy political issue to demagogue. …