WASHINGTON, D.C.--Human cloning is unsafe and should not proceed, scientists told a congressional committee today. Abnormalities seen so far in animal clones suggest that attempts to produce a human clone would result in miscarriages and babies with unpredictable defects, several scientists testified. But some witnesses argued that such efforts should go forward.
The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations heard testimony from several animal cloning experts as well as representatives from two groups that say they are attempting to produce a human baby using the technology called nuclear transfer, which was used to create the sheep Dolly as well as cloned goats, cattle, mice, and pigs.
Brigitte Bossilier of Clonaid, an organization founded by the Raelian religious movement, spoke about the company's attempts to clone a human baby that died after surgery. Bossilier testified that scientists working with the project are currently practicing removing nuclei from cattle eggs, but have not yet attempted to remove the nuclei from human eggs. She told the panel that problems seen in animal clones would not necessarily occur in humans.
Infertility researcher Panos Zavos of the Andrology Institute of America in Lexington, Kentucky, who has announced his intentions to produce clones for infertile couples, told the committee that he and his colleagues would carefully screen embryos for abnormalities during gestation. "We would not step on dead bodies or deformed babies" to pursue the technology, he said.
But developmental biologist Rudolph Jaenisch of MIT's Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research called the testimony of Zavos and Bosillier "totally irresponsible and misleading." He said he suspects all animal clones so far--even those that seem normal--have some subtle defects. Although scientists are not yet sure, Jaenisch thinks a gene regulation process called DNA methylation goes awry in the cloning process. Currently there is no technology that could test for methylation abnormalities, he said.
Only a handful of states have banned human cloning and no federal law prohibits it, but Kathryn Zoon of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told the committee that her agency has jurisdiction over any attempts at human cloning in this country. However, several lawmakers questioned the FDA's jurisdiction. The testimony "has raised our level of interest in legislating in this area," said Billy Tauzin (R-LA). Indeed, subcommittee chairman James Greenwood (R-PA) said at the conclusion of the hearing that he and Tauzin would soon introduce legislation to regulate attempts at human cloning.