Humans, no; human cells, yes

Outside editorial

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's San Jose Mercury News:

A Massachusetts company's claim that it has cloned human embryos will revive a congressional debate that for several months has been dormant.

The company, Advanced Cell Technology, announced Sunday that it had managed to get a few cloned cells to grow in a laboratory for a few hours. The cloning of a human baby is still many years away.

Yet with the Senate expected to vote on a cloning ban in February, the company succeeded in reawakening interest in one of the more difficult moral and ethical questions of our time: How far should science go in unlocking the secrets of life, and how can such knowledge be used to serve humankind?

The answer to the first question is almost irrelevant. Research into the secrets of life will continue regardless of what limits the U.S. government places on cloning. If the Senate votes to ban all forms of cloning, as the House did in July, it will merely send some of our brilliant scientists to other countries, a brain-drain we can't afford.

President Bush, who supports a ban on cloning, called the latest research breakthrough "morally wrong." This is the same president who approved research on some forms of embryonic stem cells because of the huge potential that presents for fighting disease and ending human suffering.

In addressing this issue, the Senate should follow the lead of the California legislature. In 1997, California banned the cloning of human beings for five years but specifically allowed the cloning of human cells.

Since scientists were more than five years away from cloning a person, the ban has had little effect. But the legislation created an advisory committee of medical and ethical experts to hash out the issues involved and advise the legislature. The committee's report is nearly finished, and should be delivered to the state by Jan. 1. It should provide the basis for an informed debate when the ban comes up for renewal.

There is enough concern about the safety and morality of creating human clones to warrant a temporary, national ban. However, there is enough evidence of the potential of cloned cells in the treatment of disease to warrant congressional support for this valuable research.

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