The U.S. House of Representatives once again appears to be poised to pass an anti-cloning bill that will be so restrictive that it will fall to the Senate to keep it from becoming law.
The House Judiciary Committee, on a party-line vote with 19 Republicans voting in favor and 12 Democrats voting against, approved taking to the floor a bill sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., that would make it illegal to create cloned human embryos for reproduction or research.
It appears that the House is pushing for a replay of 2001, when House members, by a 265-to-162 vote, approved a bill that would have criminalized all manner of human cloning -- not only that aimed at creating a human being. We -- and the Senate -- would readily agree that cloning babies should be prohibited.
But the House would make it a crime punishable by a $1 million fine and up to 10 years in jail to transfer the nucleus of an ordinary human cell into an unfertilized human egg whose own nucleus had already been removed -- regardless of whether that egg were destined to be implanted in a surrogate mother, or kept for only a matter of days in a laboratory until stem cells could be harvested for medical research or patient treatment.
This bill would make it impossible for the United States to compete with other nations in stem cell research, an area of medicine that holds great promise for curing or treating a multitude of diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and diabetes.
There's a better way
Two years ago, the House had in front of it a sensible, bipartisan alternative to Weldon's bill and turned it down. Reps. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., and Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., introduced a bill that would have banned the cloning of babies but would have allowed stem cell research.
The Judiciary Committee vote may be an indication that the issue has become more polarized along party lines since then, which would be unfortunate.
The debate on the House floor should rise above that of two years ago, when conscientious stem cell researchers were labeled as "mad scientists."
Stem cells are taken from embryos in their first 10 days. Many scientists believe stem cells could be grown into heart cells, liver cells or other tissues.The best way to do that is by cloning the embryo.
Members of the House should be able to differentiate between science that benefits patients suffering with degenerative diseases and mad science aimed at created a cloned child.
If they can't, it will be up to the Senate to once again block this legislation. There is a sensible compromise available, and the House should seek it.