ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA--The President's Council on Bioethics has come up with a proposal that it hopes will break the stalemate in Congress over anticloning legislation: a measure that doesn't have the word "cloning" in it. The idea was unveiled at a meeting here yesterday in the council's report, Reproduction and Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies.
The report attempts to set some baseline ethical parameters for the booming assisted-reproduction industry. As council chair Leon Kass points out, that industry "is the gateway to all the new [reproductive] technologies," from preimplantation diagnosis to genetic manipulation.
In addition to proposing a variety of government research, data collection, and monitoring, the council recommends a flurry of legislative initiatives "to protect the boundaries while public debate goes on" over the complex issues raised by new assisted- reproduction technologies, said Kass. These measures include prohibiting the creation of any animal-human hybrids; a ban on research on embryos more than 2 weeks after fertilization, a ban on the commercialization of human embryos, and a prohibition on attempts to conceive a child from fetal tissues. "No child should be able to say [its] mother or father was a fetus, an embryo, or a stem cell," said Kass.
Therein lies the council's approach to the cloning issue. It proposes legislation to prohibit attempts to conceive a child "by any means other than the union of egg and sperm." Several council members said they thought this approach might be acceptable to lawmakers who have blocked bills that would ban reproductive cloning but not research cloning. Such bills face opposition because by allowing research cloning, they implicitly require the destruction of cloned embryos that are created but cannot be implanted. The council proposal sidesteps this issue, because it makes no mention of cloned embryos--an approach that council member Michael Gazzaniga called "a cloning version of 'don't ask, don't tell.' "
Will it fly on Capitol Hill? William Doerflinger, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, says no. "It doesn't ban cloning," he notes. Tony Mazzaschi of the Association of American Medical Colleges agrees, saying, "I don't see how the Kass report will change the political rationale" for proponents of a total ban on cloning.
The council's report