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Human Cloning

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Publication Date: July 2006

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL31358

Topic: Science and technology (Scientific research)


In December 2005, an investigation by Seoul National University, South Korea, found that scientist Hwang Woo Suk had fabricated results on deriving patient matched stem cells from cloned embryos -- a major setback for the field. In May 2005 Hwang had announced a significant advance in creating human embryos using cloning methods and in isolating human stem cells from cloned embryos. These developments have contributed to the debate in the 109th Congress on the moral and ethical implications of human cloning. Scientists in other labs, including Harvard University and the University of California at San Francisco, intend to produce cloned human embryos in order to derive stem cells for medical research on diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and other diseases.

President Bush announced in August 2001 that for the first time federal funds would be used to support research on human embryonic stem cells, but funding would be limited to "existing stem cell lines." Federal funds can not be used for the cloning of human embryos for any purpose, including stem cell research. In July 2002 the President's Council on Bioethics released its report on human cloning which unanimously recommended a ban on reproductive cloning and, by a vote of 10 to 7, a four-year moratorium on cloning for medical research purposes. The ethical issues surrounding reproductive cloning (commodification, safety, identity ), and therapeutic cloning (embryos' moral status, relief of suffering), impact various proposals for regulation, restrictions, bans, and uses of federal funding. In January 2002, the National Academies released Scientific and Medical Aspects of Human Reproductive Cloning. It recommended that the U.S. ban human reproductive cloning aimed at creating a child. It suggested the ban be enforceable and carry substantial penalties. The panel noted that the ban should be reconsidered within five years. However, the panel concluded that cloning to produce stem cells should be permitted because of the potential for developing new therapies and advancing biomedical knowledge.

On May 24, 2005, the House passed H.R. 810 (Castle), which would allow federal support of research that uses human embryonic stem cells regardless of the date on which the stem cells were derived from a human embryo, thus negating the Bush stem cell policy limitation on "existing stem cell lines." In July of 2006, the Senate passed H.R. 810 and President Bush vetoed it, the first veto of his presidency. An attempt in the House to override the veto was unsuccessful. Action on the Weldon bill (which passed the House in the 108th Congress and stalled in the Senate) is also possible; it was reintroduced in the 109th Congress as H.R. 1357 and S. 658 (Brownback). The bill bans the process of cloning as well as the importation of any product derived from an embryo created via cloning. It bans not only reproductive applications, but also research on therapeutic uses, which has implications for stem cell research. Advocates of the legislative ban say that allowing any form of human cloning research to proceed raises serious ethical issues and will inevitably lead to the birth of a baby that is a human clone. Critics of the ban argue that the measure would curtail medical research and prevent Americans from receiving life-saving treatments created overseas. This report will be updated as needed.