WASHINGTON – Following up on a promise to prevent science from getting ahead of humanity, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee pushed through a bill on Wednesday that would ban all types of human cloning.
The 19-12 party line vote for the Human Cloning Prohibition Act moves the measure to the House floor for debate the week after next, when lawmakers return from the President's Day recess.
The bill resembles legislation that passed the House last July on a 265-162 margin. That measure died in the Senate.
The act would ban human cloning, but not restrict the use of cloning technologies to produce molecules, DNA, tissues, and cells other than human embryos. It would allow stem cell research that doesn't require cloning of humans. Penalties for violating the ban include fines and/or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, and civil penalties of $1 million.
"I'm quite optimistic it will pass the House. I think the prospects for the bill in the Senate remain uncertain," the bill's author, Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., told Foxnews.com.
Two amendments were offered, both of which were voted down, also on a party-line vote. One would have allowed an exemption to clone for research purposes.
Several scientific groups say therapeutic cloning — the cloning of specific human cells, genes and other tissues that don't form into a human being on their own — is vital to finding cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes as well as producing replacement skin, cartilage and bone tissues.
Weldon pointed out that this type of cloning hasn't even successfully been attempted on animals yet, let alone humans.
The cloning ban may get a boost from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who has been a vocal critic of human cloning and opposes all forms of it. But competing, watered-down bills are also vying for approval, and may have better odds in the Senate, where the stricter House measure stalled.
Last week, Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced a bill that would ban any efforts to produce human clones, with considerable penalties, but would permit somatic cell nuclear transplantation.
This type of cloning created the sheep Dolly in 1996 in a Scotland lab. Dolly was an exact genetic replica of her mother, made from nucleus-containing cells extracted from the mother, which were transferred into a human egg, zapped with electricity, then left alone to divide and create a twin.
Another bill has also been introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback, D-Kan., and Mary Landrieu, D-La., which bans human cloning and human somatic cell nuclear transfer.
"Human cloning is one of the most immediate threats to the dignity of the human person," Brownback said as he introduced a manifesto signed by 30 scientific, political and religious leaders insisting on a total ban. "With many in the biotech industry working to perfect human cloning techniques, life is becoming increasingly instrumentalized and devalued."
Weldon said that he thinks the Senate would pass a ban on reproductive cloning, but may be willing to compromise on a moratorium for now on other types of cloning.
"I think what's going on is a strategy to just let it die in the Senate and not even allow it to come up for the vote," Weldon said. "That's the likely thing that would come out if you can't pass a complete ban in a Senate, which I think would be very, very unfortunate. That's like sending out a signal that cloning is ok in America and I don’t think the American people want that … it constitutes a terrible, moral and ethical path for us to go down."