Archive for Thursday, March 17, 2005

Kansas legislators unlikely to ban human cloning

March 17, 2005

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— A bill that would ban human cloning and a procedure used in embryonic stem cell research probably won't be debated by lawmakers this year, a committee chairman says.

After nearly two hours of testimony Wednesday before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, Chairman John Edmonds, R-Great Bend, said too little is known about the bill and scientific research for him or other legislators to make an informed decision. He indicated the bill was unlikely to make it out of committee.

"I'm not going to rush a bill out of here that may or may not be the correct policy," Edmonds said. "I have about one-tenth of the information I need."

The bill would ban human cloning and the reproduction of embryonic stem cells through somatic cell nuclear transfer, also known as therapeutic cloning.

Stem cells, which form early in an embryo's development, can mature into various cells to form organs and other body parts. Some scientists believe such cells could be used to help repair damaged body parts and cure diseases.

In therapeutic cloning, the nucleus of an unfertilized woman's egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus of another human cell. The egg is then stimulated to divide, as it would when fertilized by a sperm, and stem cells are harvested.

Supporters said the ban is necessary to prevent scientists from abusing human life and experimenting with human cloning. They also said using "adult" stem cells from umbilical cords, placentas or other human tissue is more effective in treating disease.

"Kansas can do this with an adult stem cell institute," said Wesley Smith, a fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle who opposes cloning.

Bill Neaves, president of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., said the research is in its early stages and could yield cures for illness and disease.

"Developing cures takes years of research," he said. "If human bone marrow transplantation had been outlawed 50 years ago, there would be no list of adult stem cell cures today."

Neaves disputed claims that stem cell research amounts to human cloning, saying scientists, including two noted Roman Catholic scholars, agree that any attempt to clone a human would involve a uterus, not just a lab dish.

Rep. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee, and lead sponsor of the bill, said the public deserves to know the truth about stem cell research and its implications.

"I want research that's working. I don't want hype and fairy tales," Pilcher Cook said.

Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center, said that while human cloning should be ban, therapeutic cloning should not. She said the goal of embryonic stem cell research was to discover cures for debilitating illnesses and disease.

"If you pass this act, people will see Kansas as a place they don't come to do science," Atkinson said. "I see the potential. This is new research."

Kansas law already bans the use of state funds for embryonic stem cell research. Neaves and Atkinson said private and federal sources could fund such research.

However, some legislators advocate a complete ban.

"I really have a hard time understanding how you draw the ethical line you're drawing," Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe and a sponsor of the bill, said to Atkinson.

In other developments:

-- The House Health and Human Services Committee endorsed a bill under which the state would set minimum health and safety standards for abortion clinics.

-- A bill requiring all minors to wear seat belts or ride in special safety seats won Senate approval on a 30-9 vote.

-- A bill designed to protect women who want to breast-feed their babies in public won the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee's endorsement after members made a small -- but important -- change sought by the measure's backers.

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