WASHINGTON -- A bill to prohibit cloning of human embryoswas introduced into the Maryland General Assembly thismonth by delegate Lawrence LaMotte.

LaMotte introduced the bill because he was concerned aboutresearch on fertility conducted by George WashingtonUniversity scientists Jerry Hall and Robert Stillman in whichhuman polyploid embryos were cloned using an artificial zonapellucida.

The research caused a stir in the media last fall despite the factthat the clones were designed not to be viable and developedonly to the 16-cell stage. The research was approved by theuniversity's Institutional Review Board and the EthicsCommittee of the Medical Center.

"Technology must not be allowed to run roughshod overmorality," said LaMotte.

"He (LaMotte) is alarmed at the implications of this technology,"Doug Larson, an intern who researched the issue for theAssemblyman, told BioWorld. "It's really hard to understand aswell," he added. "Most people, when they think about it, itsounds like something out of a fiction novel."

Cloning of viable humans, which Larson said would becomepossible within roughly two years, "would create a problem ...because most people would rather not be a clone of someoneelse."

Larson also fears that cloning would be done by privatebusinesses -- mainly in vitro fertilization companies -- thatanswer neither to regulatory nor ethical authorities.

House Bill 856, "Human Embryo Cloning -- Prohibition,"specifies punishment as a fine not exceeding $100,000 orimprisonment not exceeding five years, or both.

"My gut reaction is it's probably a knee-jerk reaction bysomeone who doesn't understand biotechnology reacting to thenews that human embryo cells have been cloned," LarryCunnick, president of Biocon Inc. of Rockville, Md., toldBioWorld.

"We are in no way, shape or form going to clone human beings,"Cunnick told BioWorld. "I don't know of a reputable scientistthat would even begin to propose it.

"One of the problems that we as scientists face is we do a verypoor job of letting the general public know why we do certainthings," he said. He plans to implement education on theseissues for the Maryland Legislature, which is scheduling ahearing, probably for March 2.

Meanwhile, LaMotte is co-sponsor of two out of three billsintroduced last week by Delegate Margery Forehand that wouldkeep employers and insurance companies from gaining accessto people's genetic testing results. Genetic tests are"probabilistic, not deterministic," said Larson, so thosepredisposed to genetic disease might never become sick.

-- David Holzman Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.