WASHINGTON, D.C.--Fearing that a rogue scientist might try to clone humans, Senate leaders here today tried to close off debate and push through an anticloning bill drafted by Senator Kit Bond (R-MO). The bill calls for steep fines and prison sentences of up to 10 years for anyone convicted of using somatic cell nuclear transfer technology to clone humans. Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) put this legislation high on the Senate's agenda this week, despite protests that it hadn't been reviewed in committee or debated in public hearings. But when he attempted to get support for quick action, he was defeated this morning, 54 to 42. Twelve Republicans joined with 42 Democrats to override Lott.
Advocates of biomedical research, professional societies, and patient groups had mobilized to plead for a more careful review, warning that this bill's language was so vague it might hinder research on human stem cells and new medical therapies. They argued that the bill (S. 1601) should first be sent to committee for analysis, and many favored an alternative proposal introduced by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA). This bill (S. 1602) outlaws the implantation of human embryos created by nuclear transfer technology, not the technology itself.
"We've dodged the first bullet," says a relieved Sean Tipton, spokesperson for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which lobbied for delaying Senate action. Dozens of other biomedical interest groups weighed in against this legislation, and 27 Nobel Prize winners sent a letter to Congress calling for a more deliberate approach. Meanwhile, the Bond bill--which has picked up endorsements from moderate Republican Senators such as Bill Frist (TN) and Richard Lugar (IN)--may make a detour through public hearings before coming back to the Senate floor later this year.