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US Panel Recomends Ban on Human Cloning - 2002-01-19

A prestigious panel of U.S. doctors, scientists, and ethicists is recommending a nationwide legal ban on cloning a human. But unlike President Bush and the U.S. House of Representatives, the panel says cloning of human stem cells to treat diseases should be allowed.

The panel's 11 members were unanimous in their conclusion that human cloning to produce a baby should be banned by law. Panel chair Irving Weissman, a physician and cancer biologist at Stanford University, spoke at news briefing at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which issued the recommendation. "Human reproductive cloning should not now be practiced. It is dangerous and likely to fail," he said.

Cloning involves removing the nucleus of an egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus of the cell from an adult. If successful, the reconstructed egg implanted into the womb develops into an exact genetic duplicate of the adult. The technique is hailed as a way to reproduce animals with desirable traits.

The National Academy panel focused primarily on the medical and scientific ramifications of cloning, not the ethical issues, although it stressed that society should debate them. Irving Weissman said a review of cloning studies reveals that the rate of successful animal clones leading to birth is low. " ... Astonishingly low. There is no reason to believe that if it were to be carried out with human cells, the procedure today would be any better," he said.

Co-panelist Maxine Singer, president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, said even birth is no guarantee of a clone's good health. "For those instances where a fetus has gone to term and an animal has been born, a significant percentage of those have had a variety of medical problems appearing at different times," she said.

No one has cloned a human yet, but late last year researchers announced that they had cloned a human embryo to provide stem cells for research. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells with the potential to become any type of cell. They are considered useful to treat diseases where an infusion of new cells could be therapeutic.

The National Academy of Sciences panel says it favors such therapeutic cloning. But their recommendation counters a U.S. House of Representatives measure passed last year that would ban such therapeutic cloning as well as the reproductive kind. The Senate is still considering the measure, which President Bush supports.

At weeks' end, Mr. Bush's newly-formed Council on Bioethics met to consider cloning issues. He created the group of doctors, scientists, lawyers, ethicists, and philosophers to advise him on stem cell research, cloning, and other forms of assisted reproduction.

In Europe, the French parliament Thursday ruled out all forms of human cloning. But Friday, a British appeals court upheld government regulations authorizing embryo cloning for research purposes. Cloning to produce infants remains illegal in Britain.