By Lisa Seachrist
WASHINGTON — Just one day after Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to prevent the cloning of humans for 10 years, Republican senators offered a bill that would permanently ban the procedure and the production of human embryos using cloning technology.
Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) offered legislation that would ban somatic cell nuclear transfer for the production of human embryos. Bond noted that the prohibition won't impede disease research or studies involving stem cell therapy and gene therapy.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) promised to bring the bill to the Senate floor before the Presidents' Day recess, bypassing the traditional committee procedure, which would call on the Labor and Human Resources Committee to debate the law and report it to the entire Senate.
While the sponsors of the bill assert that the legislation permits biomedical research, Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), disagrees.
"This is a seriously imprecise bill with potentially damaging consequences," Feldbaum said. "This bill makes no pretense of being a bill to prohibit cloning. It goes explicitly to the heart of embryo research and in so doing would prohibit research to develop stem cell therapies for the treatment of heart disease, diabetes, hepatitis, and Huntington's and Alzheimer's diseases."
Feldbaum noted that several sponsors of the bill have been great friends to the biotechnology industry in the past, and that BIO has worked with the senators to draft a bill that wouldn't stymie biological research. Nevertheless, he said the GOP bill introduced today isn't one the industry is willing to support.
"We hate to go up against some of our friends in the Senate on this one, but we are left no choice," Feldbaum said. "They have laid down the gauntlet. To say we are opposed to this bill is an understatement."
Both BIO and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America have stated they would prefer to allow the FDA to assert its regulatory authority over attempts to clone humans rather than rush to create legislation that may do more harm than good. However, both organizations find the Feinstein-Kennedy effort more precise and palatable. (See BioWorld Today, Feb. 3, 1998, p. 1.)
"[The Bond-Gregg-Frist] bill quite explicitly attempts to steer the cloning issue into the abortion debate," Feldbaum said. "We are taking it quite seriously." *