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WASHINGTON (AP) – The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would prohibit human cloning, following a lengthy debate that also delved into stem cell research.

In passing the bill 18-11, lawmakers said they wanted to keep scientists from applying the same technique on humans that was used to clone Dolly the sheep in 1997. The measure now goes before the full House.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson praised the committee, saying its action puts Congress on the right track toward prohibiting the cloning of human beings.

“Supporting medical research to combat human disease and infirmity is immensely important to this administration,” he said. “However, science does not and cannot proceed in a moral vacuum. The ethical issues posed by human cloning and the implications for the child creates are particularly troubling.”

But as the cloning bill has moved through the House, a debate has arisen over stem cell research.

President Bush will soon decide whether to permit federal funds for medical research on stem cells pulled from human embryos. Just Monday, Pope John Paul II urged Bush to reject the idea.

As the president has grappled with his decision, so have lawmakers, including many staunch anti-abortion Republicans. In recent weeks, some – like Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah – have announced their support for stem cell research.

Thursday in the House, many Democrats voiced concern that an outright ban on human cloning would also prohibit stem cell and other types of research.

“This may be known as the point in the meeting this morning when we try to play doctor and that’s bad for American patients,” said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the leading Democrat on the committee. “This would stop ongoing studies designed to help people (that are) suffering.”

Republican members said action is needed before science advances to the point where humans are cloned. They said the bill only affects human cloning and does not restrict the use of cloning technology to produce molecules, DNA, cells other than human embryos, tissues, organs, plants or animals other than humans.

Stem cells are building blocks for all human tissue. The most versatile cells are derived from embryos discarded at fertility clinics, but some abortion opponents say it is wrong to use them for research.

Opponents of the bill argued that the use of cloning technology to create embryos for research purposes should be allowed.

The Biotechnology Industry Association voiced its opposition to the bill in a letter to committee members that stated, “Cloning techniques in research are integral to the production of breakthrough medicines, diagnostics and vaccines to treat heart attacks, various cancers, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, hepatitis and other diseases.”

The cloning research could also produce replacement skin, cartilage and bone tissue for burn and accident victims, the industry said.

“In addition to shutting the door on important research, (the bill) will limit patients’ access to possibly life saving products,” the industry said.

For some, the debate became emotional. “An embryo is human life. It is not a speck of dust,” said Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican and outspoken abortion foe. “Is it appropriate to create human life in a petri dish and then destroy that life to get at a cell? I say no.”

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, retorted, “An embryo is a clump of a few cells. How can you say to somebody who you could cure of a deadly disease ’we will not cure you because you are less important than a clump of cells.’Ý”

Democrats tried unsuccessfully several times during the hearing to offer amendments that would exempt research techniques from the ban.

Meanwhile, the committee waded into another murky topic by passing by a voice vote a bill that would ensure that a fetus breathing when it leaves a mother’s womb, even during an abortion procedure, would be treated as a person under federal law.

Nadler and other Democrats had initially opposed the measure, saying it was an attempt to chip away at abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade. Tuesday, Nadler told the committee, “Whatever concerns anyone may have had that this might become some clever way to undermine the rights protected under Roe v. Wade have, I think, been addressed. … I have little doubt that it will be passed without much controversy.”

The Senate has already attached the measure to patients’ rights legislation that passed earlier this month.

onthenet

The text of the bills can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov

Judiciary Committee: http://www.house.gov/judiciary/

Copyright © 2001, Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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