By Lisa Seachrist
WASHINGTON — Keeping his promise to act swiftly, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) permitted Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.) to bypass committee hearings and bring legislation to ban human cloning directly to the Senate floor Thursday.
However, before Bond could introduce his bill, S. 1601, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) objected to the move and began a filibuster to prevent the introduction of the bill, citing the concerns of academic and industry organizations that the legislation is so imprecise that it would ban mainstream medical research.
Feinstein and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) are sponsors of another bill designed to ban human cloning that received support from several organizations.
"This bill has been introduced less than 48 hours ago," Feinstein said. "We have had no hearings on the legislation and no floor debate. This is a rush to judgment on one of the most important issues facing us."
Lott disagreed with Feinstein's desire for committee hearings and filed a cloture motion to end debate and move to proceed with the bill. The vote has been scheduled for Feb. 10.
"I find it unfortunate our Democratic colleagues have decided to delay even our motion to proceed," Lott said. "This is a very serious matter; I don't think we can afford to set this issue aside. We should go forward and not have this bill pigeonholed in the bowels of this building."
Bond's legislation, which is cosponsored by Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), calls for a permanent ban on any attempts to produce a human embryo using somatic cell nuclear transfer technology. Researchers, either publicly or privately funded, who defy the ban could receive a federal prison term of up to 10 years.
"This measure is a careful and targeted provision that defines one technique and says that you shall not use it for human beings," Bond said. "The reason we need to go ahead now with this legislation is that we are being faced with scientists of questionable judgment going forward with something morally reprehensible."
Feinstein listed a number of organizations that strenuously oppose Bond's measure, including: the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association of Cancer Researchers and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The senator said the rush for legislation isn't necessary because the FDA has announced its intention to assert its regulatory authority with respect to attempts to clone a human being.
In addition, Feinstein said the Bond bill inappropriately focuses on human embryo research and not on the issue of cloning.
"The issue is whether we go ahead today and ramrod through a bill which we don't understand the consequences of," Feinstein said. "The current bill goes beyond the issue of cloning and offers no definition of the very technical terms it uses."
Under Bond's legislation, Feinstein said one particular fertility treatment would be illegal. The procedure calls for fertility specialists to remove the newly fertilized nucleus of one embryo and place it into an egg whose nucleus has been removed. The procedure allows women who are infertile as a result of cytoplasmic abnormalities in their eggs to have children.
The Feinstein-Kennedy proposal makes its illegal to use somatic cell nuclear transfer to create an embryo for implantation into a woman's uterus. This bill would protect research into cellular treatments for diabetes, multiple sclerosis, neurological diseases and cancer, among other disorders, Feinstein said.
GOP Bill Sponsor Opposes Embryo Research
Bond, however, blasted the Feinstein-Kennedy bill as too weak to prevent researchers from creating a cloned embryo in the U.S. and transporting it to another country for implantation into a woman's uterus. In addition, Bond abhors the provisions protecting embryo research.
"Quite frankly, some scientists would like to create human embryos and play with them, start them to grow," Bond said. "Then they say its time to destroy this one and start another. The creation of embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them is unconscionable."
Kennedy called the issue of cloning one of the most important scientific and ethical issues facing the Congress as it enters the 21st century, but said that Bond's bill will provide a significant barrier to meaningful progress. He and Feinstein urged the Senate to fully consider cloning legislation.
"It is my intention to slow down this bill so that cooler heads may prevail," Feinstein said.
Feinstein and Kennedy appear to be gaining some bipartisan support for their bill. Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) told the Senate he could not support the Bond bill nor the leadership's plan to act quickly on the cloning issue.
"I am terrified that this legislation could move forward without in-depth scientific discussion in this congress," Mack said. "If there is not a change in this legislation, I would have to vote against it, and I would vote to delay this legislation so we can hear both sides of the debate." *