By Brian Love and Mary L. Schumacher
WASHINGTON – A congressional panel headed by Rep. Constance Morella will probe the ethical and psychological ramifications of human cloning at a hearing Wednesday.
Morella, a Bethesda Republican, said she knew last week hearings would be necessary after reading about the first cloning of an adult mammal, a sheep named Dolly.
“I am against [human cloning],” said Morella, chairwoman of the House Science Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology. “But I’d like to hear from somebody who is not. We have a lot to learn, to explore.”
The panel will hear from the director of the National Institutes of Health and a member of a presidential bioethics advisory commission, among others.
NIH Director Harold Varmus warned members of Congress at a hearing last week that cloning may have hidden risks. Cloning the cell of an adult mammal that may have mutated could result in a predisposition to cancer or other diseases in the clone, he said.
But Varmus warned lawmakers that hastily crafted legislation could limit genetic research done with embryos.
An NIH panel decided in 1994 that the cloning of humans should not be allowed but that some kinds of human embryo research should go forward.
President Clinton disagreed, however, and in 1994 called for an end to federally funded embryo research.
On Tuesday, Clinton placed a temporary ban on federally funded cloning research. Under current laws, he said, “There are loopholes that would allow the cloning of human beings.”
There are no regulations on privately funded human embryo or cloning research. Clinton asked for a voluntary ban on private research into human cloning.
In addition, Clinton asked his 18-member bioethics advisory commission last week to devote all of its energies to analyzing the legal and ethical ramifications of cloning, with a report to be issued within 90 days.
Thomas Murray, chairman of the commission’s genetics testing subcommittee, will at Wednesday’s hearing provide preliminary information on existing state and federal regulations that apply to cloning and embryo research, Morella said.
Scottish scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh were the first to successfully clone an adult mammal in July 1996 and said the technology could be applied to humans.
The scientists said the cloned animals could be used to develop human medicines or grow transplant organs, but they believed cloning humans would be unethical.