ANNAPOLIS – Lawmakers moved quickly last week to kill a “well-intentioned” bill to limit human cloning experiments, after scientists warned that it might unwittingly stifle research on Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and cancer.
Opponents testified Tuesday that the bill was too vaguely worded and could have been interpreted as a ban on all cellular and DNA molecular cloning, which are vital to research in other areas.
“The understanding of the difference between cell cloning and the creation of behaviorally capable copies of humans is extremely important,” said Dr. Joann Boughman, a medical geneticist and dean at the University of Maryland at Baltimore.
The House Environmental Matters Committee killed the bill Thursday, just two days after the hearing on it.
But supporters of the bill, which would have denied state funding for human cloning research, said they would not give up their fight.
“I’m surprised that they acted so swiftly given the fact that we had so many supporters,” said Del. David Valderrama, D- Prince George’s, the chief sponsor of the bill.
He said if he cannot revive the measure this year, he will reintroduce it for as long as it takes to pass the bill.
Cloning human beings, “goes against everything I have been taught from day one,” said Valderrama.
Pat Kelly, spokeswoman for the Maryland Catholic Conference, said Valderrama’s bill was composed clearly and would have helped protect “the dignity of human beings.”
“Each child has the right to be created through the natural process of procreation,” said Kelly, who represents the state’s Catholic bishops.
No one on either side of the debate believes there are human cloning experiments being conducted in the state, and opponents of the bill said they are against such research.
Maryland was one of 24 states with anti-cloning laws pending this year, a movement that was sparked by Chicago scientist Richard Seed’s vow to do cloning research with or without government approval.
Illinois lawmakers reacted quickly to Seed’s challenge and introduced four anti-cloning bills, all of which would make it a crime to experiment in human cloning.
President Clinton banned federal funding for human cloning last March, and the Food and Drug Administration said in January that it has the power to regulate it through the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
In addition to the bill to deny state funding for cloning research in Maryland, Valderrama introduced a resolution urging disapproval of the practice. Both were killed by the committee Thursday.
Valderrama said he does not oppose cellular research and flatly denied that his bill could have been misinterpreted to inhibit it.
The bill would have denied state funding “to any medical facility, medical institution, laboratory, physicians or other medical personnel for the purpose of human cloning experiments or attempts to clone human beings.”
Valderrama said the bill was not vaguely worded, as opponents charged, but took a clear and concise stand against a specific, morally reprehensible notion.
But opponents called the language in the bill “precarious” and they said it would have sent the wrong message to universities and companies in the state.
Deron Johnson, a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, said most lawmakers do not have the scientific expertise to understand the complex situation.
“That’s the heart of the whole issue — you’re going to have legislation out there that has unintended consequences,” Johnson said.
Boughman said she agreed with other large medical research organizations that are against cloning humans and have imposed a voluntary five-year moratorium on such experiments.
But invaluable research using cloned tissue and nerve stem cells to treat burn victims and patients with spinal cord injuries could be affected by the bill, Boughman said. Cloning techniques can be used to manufacture insulin-producing cells for diabetes patients and study the patterns of cancer cells, she said.
“We will never see the fulfillment of these and many other applications if we legislatively ban the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer, cloning, or any other specified scientific technology,” she said.