WASHINGTON, D.C.--A majority of the President's Council on Bioethics has called for a 4-year moratorium on therapeutic cloning, or what it calls "cloning for biomedical research." Their report, released today, is the first pronouncement to come from the group, which has been pondering cloning for the past 4 months. It ratchets up the tension in an intensely politicized and polarized battle surrounding the ethics of creating early human embryos for research and therapy. Scientists and patients' groups expressed dismay, whereas anticloners see fresh hope for Senate passage of a moratorium.
In keeping with chair Leon Kass's desire not to go hunting for a "spurious consensus," the council came out with what it called "two possible policy alternatives." Ten of the 18 members, including Kass, endorsed a moratorium, whereas seven, including the panel's three biologists, endorsed a recommendation that research cloning be allowed to proceed--under regulatory protections--without delay. One member--Yale lawyer Stephen L. Carter--refrained from endorsing either position. All members agreed on the desirability of banning what the panel calls "cloning to produce children."
The majority explain in their statement that a 4-year moratorium "provides time for further democratic deliberation" and "would show respect for the deep moral concerns" of the many people who object to the research. They say it would also allow time to develop animal studies that might uncover alternatives to research cloning and show whether it would work as envisioned. The minority group contends that a ban on reproductive cloning would be "sufficient legal safeguard" against the practice and that "no amount of experimentation with animal models can provide the needed understanding of human diseases."
The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR), which has been lobbying strenuously to prevent a congressional ban on research cloning, promptly issued a statement rejecting the moratorium idea. "A moratorium has the same effect as a ban on lifesaving research," said CAMR president Michael Manganiello. He said it "stigmatizes vital research and is extremely hard to lift [and] puts a hold on medical breakthroughs." Cancer researcher Maxine Singer, president of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to present the council, which is meeting in downtown Washington, on 12 July with a petition protesting a moratorium signed by 2000 biomedical researchers and teachers.
Meanwhile, the National Right to Life Committee endorsed a moratorium and stepped up its attacks on pending Senate legislation that would permit research cloning. Congressional action has been stalled, as neither side has been able to muster a clear majority.