WASHINGTON – From sheep to pigs to even humans allegedly, cloning has put godlike power into the hands of scientists, leaving some God-fearing lawmakers questioning whether to limit those scientific endeavors.
"The question is this: simply because we can do something, does that mean we should?" asked Rep. Bart Stupak, a co-sponsor of legislation introduced Wednesday to ban human cloning in the United States.
The Human Cloning Prohibition Act is almost a duplicate of the bill sponsored by Stupak, D-Mich., and Dave Weldon, R-Fla., and passed by the House on a 263-162 vote last year. The measure floundered in the Senate.
"We are in the midst of a tremendous new debate; of a new policy direction during a medical revolution," Stupak told reporters. "We cannot afford to treat the issue of human embryo cloning lightly whether for research or reproduction, nor can we treat it without serious debate and deliberation."
The bill got a jumpstart this session after Clonaid, a company founded by the leader of the Raelian sect that believes aliens created life on Earth, claimed it had delivered a human clone baby and had three more on the way.
"Though this group is obviously questionable … there are other individuals, as well as researchers … claiming they are moving forward on human cloning," Weldon said.
The two alleged infants in the Clonaid experiments were supposedly born to parents of U.S. and Dutch citizenry respectively. The Netherlands bans human cloning as does the United Kingdom, but the United States, France and Germany are still debating legislation.
Weldon and Stupak prowled the House floor during Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony and signed up 80 co-sponsors to get the bill on the fast track.
But while the sponsors of the bill say they want to avoid Franken-babies, 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.
"We think [therapeutic cloning] has the potential to be used in conjunction with stem cell research," Michael Werner, vice president for bioethics for the Biotechnology Industry Association, told Foxnews.com.
Werner said his association opposes reproductive cloning, done specifically to create a new human being.
The bill bans both forms of human cloning. Weldon, a physician, said there hasn’t yet been a successful attempt of therapeutic cloning on animals, therefore, it makes no sense to allow it on humans.
"The human race is not open for experimentation and manufacture at any level, even the embryonic level," Stupak said.
The bill directs the General Accounting Office to do a four-year study on therapeutic cloning of animals.
As for embryonic stem cells, the legislation does not prohibit research on existing normal embryos and allows animal, tissue and DNA cloning. It does prevent the creation of cloned embyronic stem cells to be used for research and then discarded. The sponsors say adult stem cells should suffice.
But Werner said adult stem cells have never been scientifically proven to produce the same types of critical research results as embryonic stem cells. Much-respected groups such as the National Institutes of Health, he said, have verified that adult stem cells do not hold as much potential for finding viable cures.
"The point is, that all avenues should be pursued because we don’t know where the next cures will come from," Werner said.
Weldon has met with House leadership to gauge the chances of getting the bill through committee and to the House floor quickly. The House Energy and Commerce and House Judiciary committees will have jurisdiction over the bill.
Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told Weldon he will send the bill straight to the full committee for a vote. They hope to get the bill out of committee in February and on to the House floor by early March.
The bill may see passage in the Senate this year. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who introduced a similar bill last year with Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., will reintroduce their bill "shortly," a spokesman in his office said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who last session introduced a bill that would ban human reproductive cloning but would allow therapeutic cloning, will also introduce her bill again, a spokesman said.
Language is now being fine-tuned in the bill, which would impose severe criminal penalties for human reproductive cloning and would only allow therapeutic cloning under tightly regulated circumstances.
Those efforts should be aided by new Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. He has been a vocal critic of human cloning and opposes all forms of it.
Stupak and Weldon also have an ally in the White House. President Bush, who has outright opposed both reproductive and therapeutic cloning, last year urged Congress to send a bill to his desk.
"I believe all human cloning is wrong, and both forms of cloning ought to be banned … anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be unethical," Bush said in an April White House speech. "Allowing cloning would be taking a significant step toward a society in which human beings are grown for spare body parts, and children are engineered to custom specifications; and that's not acceptable."