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(January 6, 2005) — A federal ban on human cloning appears to be all that can stop millions and maybe billions of state dollars from being spent on creating tiny humans for spare parts in California. It would also invalidate a New Jersey law that allows therapeutic human cloning.

Many Californians probably did not realize they approved human cloning when they voted overwhelmingly Nov. 2nd to pass Proposition 71–and now the best hope to block it is a federal ban, a top Catholic official says.

"At this point, the only way to stop widespread cloning for research purposes in California is a federal law," says Richard Doerflinger, pro-life lobbyist for the U.S. bishops in Washington, D.C. "This proposition made it into a state constitutional right."

The massive infusion of $3 billion over the course of ten years in California is expected to revolutionize the U.S. and world bio-tech industry, with the largest hunk of state dollars slated to go to human cloning and embryonic stem cell research. In addition, a New Jersey therapeutic cloning law took effect in January 2004 that critics say allows "harvesting" of organs throughout the unborn child’s life but does not allow the child to be born. A federal ban would not outlaw embryonic stem cell research with non-cloned embryos.

The good news is that supporters of the cloning ban, including lead sponsor Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, believe the climate in Washington, D.C., is the best it’s been in years for outlawing human cloning. On the other side, momentum is building nationally for more funding for embryonic stem cell research at the state level.

For many years human cloning seemed so unbelievable–a topic better suited for science fiction–that many Americans paid little or no attention. Now it is on the horizon and approaching fast and there are few laws addressing the issue.

Catholic teaching opposes cloning, whether therapeutic–using the embryo for spare parts and thus killing it–or reproductive, making a baby from the exact DNA of its parent. The process is exactly the same in either case; only the purpose is different.

The first known example of cloning of a human embryo was announced in February 2004 by South Korean scientists who grew the embryo for seven or eight days before destroying it. Mice, sheep and cats have been cloned for several years, beginning with Dolly the sheep in Britain in 1996.

Life is meant to come from God through the blessed relationship of a man and a woman, says Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D., of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. "We all have the right to be born of love," he observes. When embryos are made in a test tube or a petrie dish "they can be frozen, they can poured down the sink. You treat them as objects rather than subjects of infinite human value."

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a human cloning ban by a vote of 241-155 in February 2003, but it stalled in the Senate. After the November 2004 Republican electoral sweep, which gave Republicans four more pro-life votes in the Senate, there is a sense that many Americans adhere to more traditional "moral values" and thus the ban may have a better chance.

Lead sponsors on the Senate legislation are Brownback and Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. The bill, S.245, will be re-introduced in the 2005-06 Congress.

"I am encouraged that we are heading in the right direction, and now is the time to move forward," Brownback said in a Dec. 21 statement. "It is critical for Congress to ban human cloning, and the recent election results put us closer than ever to passing the bipartisan Human Cloning Prohibition Act."

Internationally, sixty-two nations completely oppose human cloning, including Costa Rica, the U.S., and Germany. On November 19, 2004, after lengthy and acrimonious debate, the United Nations postponed indefinitely a vote on Costa Rica’s proposed worldwide ban on human cloning. Britain and India were among the twenty-two nations opposing the ban.

Within the U.S., five states ban all cloning (North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Iowa, Arkansas) and three others ban reproductive cloning (Rhode Island, Missouri, California). Virginia bans reproductive cloning but it is unclear whether its law applies to therapeutic cloning, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Meanwhile several states are moving toward public funding of stem cell research, hoping to emulate California’s $3 billion stem cell bond issue, the Center for Genetics and Society reports. The Illinois State Comptroller is leading an effort to place a $1 billion proposal on the 2005 ballot. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin announced an effort to raise $750 million in both public and private funds to support a stem cell research center. Yet there is no national law addressing the subject.

A human cloning ban is a top priority of the U.S. bishops in the 2005-06 Congress, said Doerflinger, deputy director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Under the U.S. Senate bill, the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer--the cloning of any human embryo whether for reproductive or therapeutic purposes--would be banned. Scientists hope that they can create new organs and cures for diseases by building from the early 100-150 cells that compose a week-old embryo but so far have been unsuccessful in doing so in mice and there are no known examples of human tests. Scientists hope embryos cloned from the cell of the person needing treatment would provide new organs or other treatments that would circumvent rejection problems.

"Cloning is like an unmarked and unchecked interstate system, with scientists racing as fast as they can with no restrictions whatsoever," Louisiana Sen. Landrieu said. "It is up to Congress to put up the speed limit signs before we have any casualties."

California’s new law explicitly forbids reproductive cloning but authorizes therapeutic cloning of humans. Embryonic stem cell research and all other stem cell research would continue to be funded in California even if a federal ban is enacted, Doerflinger said.

With a 55-45 Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, Democrats could still block the measure from coming to a vote with a filibuster. In addition, Republican Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania support therapeutic cloning. So far, Landrieu is the sole Democrat to support a complete ban.

Hatch and Specter joined California Democratic Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer as well as new Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada in co-sponsoring a competing measure in the 2003-04 Congress that would have allowed therapeutic cloning while banning reproductive cloning.

"Many proponents of human cloning claim there are different types of cloning. However, there is only one type of cloning, and the procedure always results in the creation of new human embryo," Brownback said. "It is wrong to clone and kill a human being for research purposes."

Read "Cloning Kills....But Don't Tell Anyone" | "How Cloning Works"

Valerie Meehan Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children.

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