President’s Council on Bioethics to examine human cloning issues

Posted 11:45 a.m. Jan. 28

By Seth Goldman

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – The first task of the president’s Council on Bioethics will be to examine the issue of human cloning, according to Leon Kass, chairman of the council and a professor of social thought at the University of Chicago.

The council, which was assembled by President George W. Bush last summer to examine new issues in bioethics, met for the first time last week and will release a report later this year.

Seventeen of the council’s 18 members are either retired or current university faculty members.

The panel will focus less on trying to shape policy and instead aim to develop a way to raise public awareness and encourage debate, Kass said.

There is little public criticism of the council, which is a welcome change for most in the cloning debate, including scientists and Christian, environmental, women’s rights and patient advocacy groups. They agree that the council will have little effect on policymaking but will encourage more discussion on the issues.

Last August the Republican-led House passed a bill that bans all forms of cloning. Bush supports the House bill and has said publicly that he only supports embryonic research on existing embryos rather than cloned ones. In the Senate, three bills addressing cloning recently have been introduced. Two of the bills would outlaw the cloning of people — called reproductive cloning — but allow “therapeutic cloning,” cloning of embryos to create stem cells for research purposes.

Dr. David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical Association (CMA), a group representing 16,000 Christian doctors nationwide and opposing all forms of cloning, said the council is needed because “we’re facing new developments each month” in the biotechnology field.

The CMA holds that embryos are “living organisms” that should not be destroyed for research, and Stevens advocates intense public discussion on the topic.

“I think these issues should be vigorously debated,” he said, “because that’s what we do in a democracy.”

Daniel Perry, executive director of the Alliance for Aging Research, a patient advocacy group in favor of “therapeutic” cloning, said the council is unlikely to support a position different from the Bush administration.

Perry also said that the council’s deliberations would be secondary to those in the Senate, which he said would be dominated by patient advocates that believe the cloning of embryos for their stem cells could lead to breakthroughs in disease treatment.

Larry Bohlen, director of health and environmental programs for Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, said the group advocates a global moratorium on human cloning for research in part to allow public debate of the issue.

“The problem we see is that the rush into genetic engineering is done without full investigation into environmental and health consequences,” Bohlen said.

Judy Norsigian, executive director of the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective that produced the feminist health guide “Our Bodies Ourselves,” advocates a five-year moratorium on therapeutic cloning and a ban on reproductive cloning. Norsigian said the moratorium would allow further research into the “super-ovulating” drugs women take to provide eggs that she said might increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women.

As for the council, “It’s not as conservative as some people think,” Norsigian said. “The council could help a lot with the debate.”

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