Washington Editor

WASHINGTON - President Bush has never made a secret of the fact that he opposes therapeutic and reproductive cloning, so it came as no surprise Wednesday when he publicly endorsed legislation introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to criminalize all cloning.

At a Rose Garden event, Bush addressed a crowd of scientists and activists who support the Brownback legislation (S1899), as well as a similar bill (HR2505) introduced by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) that passed in the House last summer. (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 6, 2001, and Nov. 27, 2001.)

“Advances in biomedical technology must never come at the expense of human conscience,” Bush told the crowd representing Christian and right-to-life organizations. “As we seek what is possible, we must always ask what is right, and we must not forget that even the most noble ends do not justify any means.”

The Senate is expected to take up the cloning debate before the Memorial Day break.

Before visiting the White House Wednesday, Brownback held a briefing to give anti-cloning organizations the chance to state their opposition and gain support.

If Brownback had gotten his way in 1998 when Dolly the sheep was cloned, the issue would have been resolved with passage of his legislation banning the science.

With Bush’s public endorsement of Brownback, and the president’s reported support of the Weldon legislation, it’s beginning to look like the deck is stacked against scientists who want to clone for research purposes.

“Human cloning is deeply troubling to me, and to most Americans,” Bush said. “Life is a creation, not a commodity. Allowing cloning would be taking a significant step toward a society in which human beings are grown for spare body parts, and children are engineered to custom specifications, and that’s not acceptable.”

Bush’s comments may be reflective of America’s view on reproductive cloning, but they do not necessarily represent the common view on therapeutic cloning.

Indeed, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), along with Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is expected to introduce a bill that would allow therapeutic cloning but ban human cloning.

There reportedly are about 20 senators who have not stated which way they will vote.

“I think the Senate is very divided on this,” Carl Feldbaum, president of Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization, told BioWorld Today. “I don’t think either side has the vote, and there are a number of senators who are still on the fence. I don’t think this is a done deal from any perspective.”

He continued, saying, “Our position is very clear. We are against the reproductive applications of this technology; we favor the therapeutic applications because they have shown promise, particularly in Parkinson’s disease and juvenile diabetes. We think the research applications should to go forward. But we would approve of a ban on the reproductive application.”

Many scientists believe therapeutic cloning is central to the production of breakthrough medicines, diagnostics and vaccines to treat a variety of diseases. Therapeutic cloning also could produce replacement skin, cartilage and bone tissue for burn and accident victims and help to regenerate retinal and spinal cord tissue. However, such cloning techniques could not produce a whole human being.

Not all scientists share that belief.

Tom Dooley, CEO of IntegriDerm Inc., a biotechnology firm based in Huntsville, Ala., spoke in opposition to therapeutic cloning at Brownback’s briefing Wednesday.

“As a biotechnology insider, I can say confidently that there are no valid justifications to produce human clones either for reproductive reasons or for the generation of human embryonic stem cells,” he said. “Alternative research approaches and therapies for various diseases are available and are being pursued by researchers, thus abrogating the so-called need for human embryonic stem cell research.”

He said alternatives include adult stem cells, biotechnology-derived recombinant proteins, pharmaceuticals and surgical and radiological intervention. Furthermore, funding by the National Institutes of Health or the private sector for these alternative approaches “is likely to produce excellent results with comparable or greater potential to aid in the healing of human maladies,” he said.