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Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 02:27 GMT
US Congress debates rival cloning bills
Claude Vorilhon - the spiritual leader of the Raelian Movement and founder of Clonaid
The Raelians say they have successfully cloned a human

The debate over banning human cloning is back in the United States Senate with two bills competing to be passed.

After the religious sect the Raelians claimed they had successfully given birth to the first cloned human baby, everyone in Congress agrees on the need for a ban on the practice.

The big debate is on whether scientists should be allowed to experiment with cloned embryos.

But the issue has become engulfed in the passionate and highly divisive politics of the abortion debate in the US.

Cross-party initiative

Many people in the "right to life" movement, that is opposed to all abortions, say that life begins at the moment of conception, and feel that even embryos a few days old should not be used for experiments.

I believe that the critical part of a pro-life pro-family philosophy is helping the living as well

Senator Orrin Hatch
One bill submitted last week reflects the one passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives last year, which banned all human cloning and experiments connected to it.

It foundered when it reached the Senate.

But another has now been introduced by a cross-party coalition of senators.

Punishments

Anti-abortion advocate Orrin Hatch - a Republican - says he is backing the bill because it allows for scientific experiments to be carried out on embryos in a carefully regulated ethical way.

"As a right-to-life senator, I believe that the critical part of a pro-life pro-family philosophy is helping the living as well," he said at a news conference.

"I believe, after much study, reflection and prayer, that human life requires and begins in a mother's womb."

The Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Bill includes harsh punishments of fines up to $1m and up to 10 years in jail for cloning or attempting to clone a human.

It is supported by the scientific community and 40 Nobel prize-winners.

Passionate opposition

Stem cells are the basic building blocks for all living cells.

Scientists say the ones found in embryos are vital for their work - they can use them to grow a variety of new cells which could eventually play a crucial role in curing a wide range of serious conditions such as diabetes and severe spinal injuries.

Cloning is cloning is cloning... All of it degrades humans and causes us to look at each other as less than human

Senator Sam Brownback

Senator Hatch said he only supported the bill once it included strenuous safeguards to guarantee the ethical use of eggs and embryos.

He pointed out that while allowing research it bans the use of fertilised embryos or their implantation.

Senator Hatch believes his bill has the support of more than half the Senate.

But he faces passionate opposition from his fellow anti-abortionists.

'Degrading'

Republican Senator Sam Brownback is sponsoring the Human Cloning Prohibition Bill that would ban all cloning.

He and a group of anti-abortion groups held a news conference on the same day as the launch of the competing bill - something which must have been more than coincidence and happened several times last year as similar bills went through Congress.

Senator Brownback said it was wrong to allow any experimentation on even single cells that could one day develop into human beings.

"Cloning is cloning is cloning: whether you're seeking it for full-scale reproduction as the Raelians are, or if you're seeking it for research and destructive purposes as some laboratories are.

"All of it degrades humans and causes us to look at each other as less than human."

Over the next few months the debate will be closely fought.

President Bush repeated in his State of the Union speech that he supports a total ban on all cloning and experiments.

That might make it difficult for supporters of research on embryos to keep all of their Republican backers united - first in the Senate and then in the House where the bill will face a much tougher battle.

Human reproductive cloning

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12 Jan 03 | Americas
06 Jan 03 | Health
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