Washington The House voted to ban all cloning of human embryos Tuesday night, casting Congress' first votes on the divisive ethical issue after a day of emotional debate on science, morality and the definition of life.
The bill passed by 265-162, capping a day in which lawmakers also said no to even limited human cloning for research into possible cures for Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's and other fatal or disabling diseases.
"This House should not be giving the green light to mad scientists to tinker with the gift of life," said Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla. "Cloning is an insult to humanity. It is science gone crazy."
A similar ban has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. And Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said Tuesday he was "opposed to the effort to clone under virtually any circumstances."
The vote to ban any human cloning occurred shortly after the House, by 249-178, rejected an amendment that would have allowed the limited creation of cloned embryos dedicated solely to research.
Reps. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., and Peter Deutsch, D-Fla., said their alternative to permit cloning for research could point the way to cures for terrible diseases.
"Why would we condemn the world and future generations not to have this miracle?" Greenwood said. "Some would say once you put Mr. Greenwood's cheek cell in and it divides, it becomes a soul."
Lawmakers spent much of the day's debate plunging into the ethics of biotechnology.
Looking at consequences
"This is about providing moral leadership for a watching world," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. "Allowing the creation of cloned embryos by law would enable anyone to attempt to clone a human being."
House members agreed on the general principle that they do not want the human species cloned, the technique that allowed scientists to create Dolly the sheep in 1997.
The disagreement was over whether scientists should be able to clone human embryos and then use them in their search for cures to diseases.
From the embryos, scientists could gather valuable stem cells the building blocks for all human tissue. President Bush is now deciding whether to permit federal funds for medical research on stem cells pulled from human embryos.
The matter has been hotly contested because the most versatile stem cells are derived from embryos discarded at fertility clinics. Using them for research is opposed by abortion foes.
"There are ways for us to get these answers without messing with cloning," Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., supporting the total ban written by Reps. Dave Weldon, R-Fla., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich.
Cloned embryos would represent a new frontier, allowing scientists to produce stem cells that would be a perfect match to a person's DNA. Such stem cells could then be cultivated to produce healthy tissue for people with debilitating diseases, scientists hope.
Denying the obvious?
But even a cloned embryo is a human being, opponents argued, saying Greenwood's bill would sanction their destruction.
"You might as well say Dolly isn't a real sheep even though she's now five years old," said Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa.
Sensenbrenner and others suggested that scientists could use adult stem cells or other sources for research.
The Food and Drug Administration claims the authority to regulate cloning, but there is no law governing it.
"We are sailing into uncharted waters," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said. "Our decision here today could have consequences for years to come."
In a statement Monday, the Bush administration said it "unequivocally is opposed to the cloning of human beings either for reproduction or for research. The moral and ethical issues posed by human cloning are profound and cannot be ignored in the quest for scientific discovery."
The use of stem cells from human embryos for research has divided even the most staunch anti-abortion Republicans. In recent weeks, some, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, have announced their support for stem cell research.
Recently during Bush's trip to Europe, Pope John Paul II urged him to reject research with human embryo stem cells.