San Jose Mercury News: Last week, at opposite ends of the country, two panels of distinguished experts submitted nearly identical recommendations on the complex issue of human cloning.
A National Academy of Sciences panel and one appointed by the state of California both recommended that the government ban the cloning of people, but allow the cloning of human cells for medical research.
The president and Congress should listen to the experts, but it's not clear that they will.
Last year, the U.S. House passed a bill backed by the Bush administration that would outlaw all forms of cloning. Since the cloning of an actual human being is not now possible, the only immediate effect of the legislation would be to stop research using cloned human cells to treat disease. Scientists believe these cells can be harvested from very early embryos and used to replace malfunctioning cells in the body.
The Roman Catholic Church and anti-abortion forces oppose cloning of cells because it involves the destruction of potential human life. Scientists and patient advocates support it because of its potential to treat disease.
Moderate bill: Next month the Senate is expected to consider legislation similar to that passed by the House. It will also consider a more moderate bill that would ban cloning of babies, or reproductive cloning, but allows cloning for medical treatment, called therapeutic cloning.
Reproductive cloning has few supporters. Even before Dolly the sheep developed premature arthritis, scientists were saying that the process is too risky for humans.
Many observers of the debate assume that the more moderate position, supported by the scientific community and a bipartisan group of legislators, will prevail. Columnist William Safire says, "No to cloning tomorrow's people; yes to cloning cells that cure today's people. Because most of us agree, that will become law and policy."
But it's not that simple. Safire is forgetting at least one important person who doesn't agree, President Bush. The two panel reports have not changed his mind. He is waiting to hear from his own panel of experts, handpicked to support his view. It's quite likely the panel will recommend an all-out ban, and Bush will use that report to support his continued opposition to therapeutic cloning.
That would be a serious mistake. Ever since the discovery of fire, human beings have been harnessing new and dangerous technology to benefit society. While cloning could be misused, it also could lead to important medical breakthroughs. The role of government is not to stifle scientific inquiry, but to regulate it and maximize its potential to alleviate human suffering.

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