WASHINGTON (July 31, 2001) -- Msgr. William P. Fay, General Secretary of the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops, urged Congress to approve without delay the Weldon/Stupak Human Cloning Prohibition Act. In a July 31 letter to Congress, Msgr. Fay called for defeat of a substitute bill by Congressman Greenwood that would provide federal approval for the creation and destruction of cloned human embryos.
The Human Cloning Prohibition Act was approved 18-to-11 by the House Judiciary Committee with a vote by the full House expected shortly.
Citing the urgency of the situation, Msgr. Fay noted that some researchers have already announced they are trying to produce a live-born child by cloning, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that about 99% of new humans created by this method would die before birth, and the rare survivor would suffer from massive medical problems. The Weldon/Stupak bill would ban the use of somatic cell nuclear transfer to create a new organism of the human species.
The bill would have no effect on in vitro fertilization or any other reproductive technology in current use, but deals only with cases of asexual reproduction which do not involve fertilization of eggs by sperm. The bill explicitly exempts any use of cloning technology to produce animals, plants, DNA, tissues, or cells other than human embryos (including stem cells which are not themselves human embryos).
In the letter, Msgr. Fay took issue with proponents of cloning who argue that the bill interferes with a procedure that is essential to stem cell research. He noted that a new report by the National Institutes of Health cites cloning as one way to prevent rejection of embryonic stem cells as foreign tissue, but cites other approaches as well--and expresses great uncertainty as to whether these cells will provoke a significant immune reaction even without such manipulations.
He also noted that the scientific journal Nature reported recently that the idea of using embryo cloning to provide tailor-made stem cells is "falling from favour," that "many experts do not now expect therapeutic cloning to have a large clinical impact."
Msgr. Fay said those biotechnology companies which still favor human cloning for research purposes support the Greenwood bill because it explicitly authorizes and even licenses laboratories to pursue research designed to refine the cloning process, and in ten years automatically drops all legal barriers to the use of cloned embryos to initiate a pregnancy. In the meantime, the Greenwood proposal would bar states from enacting any genuine ban on human cloning within their own jurisdictions.
"The framers of the Weldon/Stupak bill understand that once a society allows experimental human cloning in the laboratory, attempts to initiate pregnancies and to create live-born children by cloning are inevitable," Msgr. Fay wrote. "I therefore urge you to defeat the Greenwood substitute and to approve the Weldon/Stupak ban on human cloning without delay."
Full text of the letter.