Associated Press, Dec. 27, 2002
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration began investigating whether a sect claiming to have produced the world’s first human clone illegally performed any of the work here, while it also pushed Congress to ban baby-making via cloning.
Friday’s announcement of the allegedly cloned baby girl puts the next step, whether to ban human cloning, squarely into Congress’ court. President Bush joined a conservative drumbeat urging that ban.
The nation has no specific law against human cloning. But the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates human experiments, contends that its regulations forbid human cloning without prior agency permission — permission it has no intention of giving.
There is broad support in Congress for an overt ban of cloning to produce babies, partly from concern that FDA’s authority won’t hold up in court. But legislation stalled last summer over a dispute as to whether the ban should include medical research that involves the cloning of human embryonic cells.
Lawmakers expressed skepticism Friday that Clonaid, a company formed by a sect that believes in extraterrestrials, had indeed produced a clone. Still, leading Republicans, backed by some powerful religious groups, called for a quick ban when Congress returns next month.
“The president believes, like most Americans, that human cloning is deeply troubling,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “Despite the widespread skepticism among scientists and medical professionals about today’s announcement, it underscores the need for the new Congress to act.”
But lawmakers who had pushed for a compromise studiously avoided comment fearing the Clonaid uproar, whether it proves true or a hoax, would harm efforts to keep cloning for medical research legal.
Not waiting for any new laws, the FDA began a probe Friday to see if Clonaid broke federal health regulations by performing cloning work on U.S. soil.
While the alleged cloned baby was born to an American, Clonaid’s chief wouldn’t say where her company performed the cloning or implanted the embryo into the mother. FDA investigators’ first step will be to find that out, said a high-ranking agency official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
If Clonaid performed all of its alleged work abroad and the baby merely was born here, the FDA would have no grounds to intervene against the company.
Presumably, a ban by Congress wouldn’t stop Americans from seeking cloning experiments abroad, either. But supporters of the ban were emboldened by Friday’s announcement.
Clonaid’s announcement “should serve as a chilling reminder that individuals are still trying to clone human beings,” said incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a physician who backs a ban on all forms of human cloning.
Such a ban, backed by Bush, passed the House last year.
But in the Senate, Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, formed an unusual partnership to draw a distinction between cloning for baby-making and the cloning of human embryonic cells for medical research. Neither proponents of a total cloning ban and those of the Kennedy-Hatch compromise could get enough votes to pass their bills.
Kennedy and Hatch wouldn’t comment Friday. But lobby groups geared up for more battle. The National Right to Life Committee decried “human embryo farms” in urging an immediate ban of all forms of cloning.
Others argued to leave medical research avenues open, arguing a few-celled embryo in a laboratory dish doesn’t deserve the same protections as a person. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America worried that Clonaid’s unproven announcement would spur political overreaction: “It’s way too early to suggest that we should abandon the potentially lifesaving research,” said union policy director Nathan Diament.
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