Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) will move to pass a permanent ban on all forms of human cloning in the new Congress, a Frist aide told HUMAN EVENTS.
Despite Frists public ambivalence last year over whether he would support a ban or merely a moratorium on cloning, the aide said Frist would push for a permanent ban in the new Congress. The aide said Frist had spoken for a moratorium last year only because that was all he thought would pass the Senate at the time, and that a moratorium would be “better than nothing.”
Still, thanks to continued opposition from most Senate Democrats, other congressional sources said that unless President Bush intervenes with key senators, the Senate may not do any better than a moratorium. The White House did not respond to inquiries from HUMAN EVENTS as to whether President Bush-who gave his blessing last spring to a complete and permanent ban on human cloning-would make the cloning ban a priority, or whether he would mention cloning in his January 28 State of the Union address.
But a net gain of four anti-cloning senators in the midterm elections was definitely enough to doom a rival proposal, specifically denounced by President Bush, that would allow the creation of human clones only if they are subsequently destroyed in scientific experiments.
It is believed that about 44 senators have either committed to or are leaning toward the complete cloning ban, with several still undecided. But with Republicans running the Senate, Frist may finally be able to bring about a clear up-or-down vote on the ban, something former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) never allowed. Even if the ban fails to pass, a “no” vote could be politically damaging for several liberal senators facing re-election in conservative states in 2004, including Daschle, Byron Dorgan (N.D) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.).
The House, on the other hand, is expected to pass a permanent and complete ban (already numbered H.R. 234) by a very wide bipartisan margin, as it did in the last Congress when the bill received 265 votes. No new hearings on the measure are expected before it reaches the House floor, which could happen as early as February, according to Rep. Dave Weldon (R.-Fla.), the bills chief House sponsor.
Frist, who is also a medical doctor, announced his support for anti-cloning legislation last year. But his public statements on the issue concerned some anti-cloning activists because they seemed to indicate that his support for a ban was conditional, that he may be open to legalizing human cloning in the future for the purpose of scientific experimentation, provided the necessary technology is developed.
They point to a Washington Post op-ed of April 28, 2002, in which Frist wrote: “At this point in the evolution of this new science, I cannot justify the purposeful creation and destruction of human embryos in order to experiment on them.”
According to the Dec. 24, 2002, Boston Globe, Frist also met recently with officials from Advanced Cell Technology (ACT)-a Massachusetts-based research company that has already cloned human embryos. The Globe, reported that Frist met with the officials at the request of “wealthy ACT investors friendly with Frist, who were worried that the companys cloning work would soon be outlawed.”
The new bipartisan anti-cloning bill is also slightly weaker than the version proposed last year. Absent is a section of the original bill that forbade importation into the United States of therapies produced from human clones. The Senate sponsor of the cloning ban, Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.), argued last spring that such a provision was necessary in order to prevent an easy end-run around the law. But the provision was removed from both the House and Senate versions this year. Weldon called the change “an attempt to make it more acceptable to some of the senators.”
Last March, Frist expressed discomfort with the anti-importation provision, telling reporters outside the White House that part of the bill “needs to be worked on.” Weldon spokeswoman Pamela Groover, however, said Frist had not called Weldon to ask for the provision to be removed.