Cloning Debate Splits Women's Health Movement. (Health Section)

By Stevens, Allison | Women in Action, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Cloning Debate Splits Women's Health Movement. (Health Section)


Stevens, Allison, Women in Action


WASHINGTON--Women's health groups are at odds over a proposed bill that bans human cloning for reproductive and research purposes. There is broad support among women's groups for banning anyone from creating embryos with the intent of implanting them in women to produce children. But some women's health groups are crying foul because such a ban will also ban embryonic stem cell research, which would interfere with the promise of scientific breakthroughs that could be advantageous to women. Others believe such legislation, moreover, could threaten reproductive freedom

Some Senate leaders expect to vote on the bill this summer. President George Bush, who supports a total ban on human cloning, has indicated he would sign the bill into law. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a similar bill last year.

Heart of the Debate

Stem cells, sometimes called "magic seeds" for their ability to replicate indefinitely and morph into any kind of tissue, are taken from human embryos only days old. Because stem cells are capable of developing into any of nearly 220 cell types that make up the human body, scientists believe they will lead to cures for diseases once thought untreatable. The controversy begins at the source-the human embryos that must be destroyed to retrieve stem cells. Scientists can obtain these embryos in four ways: (1) from thousands of frozen embryos stored in fertility clinics (because clinics routinely fuse many eggs with. sperm for in vitro fertilisation); (2) from the fetuses donated to abortion clinics; (3) from cloned human embryos; and (4) from mixed sperm and eggs expressly used to create embryos for stem cells.--Editor

Advocates of stem cell research--also called therapeutic cloning--believe this could lead to advances in the fight against diseases of particular concern to women such as breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis and auto-immune diseases. The process could also advance research for diseases that affect the population at large such as Parkinson's Disease, stroke, heart disease, Lou Gehrig's Disease and various cancers.

Other women's groups are moreover wary of a bill backed by anti-abortion leaders. A total ban effectively endorses the pro-choice movement's demand of protection of the embryo from the moment of conception.

Supporters of the proposed total ban, however, say this will protect women from the dangers of an unregulated industry.

And still others say that cloning and abortion rights, however, are entirely unrelated issues. They believe a total ban will not jeopardise abortion rights and will also protect women from the potential dangers of a new technology not fully understood by scientists, doctors or politicians.

"Everything relating to abortion and embryos splits the women's health community," says Susan M. Wolf, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Minnesota Law School and editor of the book Feminism in Bioethics: Beyond Reproduction.

Opposition to Therapeutic Cloning

"Women's health advocates have worked for years to overcome researchers' past neglect of women's health," three women's health groups wrote last May 2002 in a letter to Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and champion of the movement to legalise research on cloned embryonic stem cells.

"In our pursuit of better information, treatment and cures for women and their families, we must ensure that the newest and most promising techniques are available to those same researchers," the National Partnership for Women and Families, the Society for Women's Health Research and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in their joint letter.

Such groups, however, face serious obstacles in Congress, where a coalition of anti-abortion and anti-cloning members oppose therapeutic cloning because it would create human embryos with the specific intent of destroying them. …

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