We must not clone humans, Bush tells the Senate

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The Independent US

President George Bush made an impassioned plea for a total ban on human cloning yesterday after the Senate announced that it would hold a vote on the issue.

Mr Bush, whose oppositiuon extends to embryonic cloning for medical research, made his plea at a White House meeting with opponents of the research, hours after the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, confirmed that a vote would be held within the next few weeks. With the pro and anti camps equally divided, the balance is held by about 20 undecided senators, at whom Mr Bush was directing his remarks yesterday.

"We must stop human cloning before it starts," the President declared. "We must ask ourselves what is right. Even the most noble ends do not always justify any means."

He endorsed the Republican-led Senate Bill demanding a ban, and stressed that he opposed not only reproductive cloning to create another human being, which is abhorred by most people including the scientific community, but also cloning to produce embryos from which stem cells could be extracted.

Many scientists support the latter, saying it could be vital in the search for cures to diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. "That's where the divide is," Mr Daschle, a supporter of research cloning, said.

Almost simultaneously, a group of 40 Nobel prize-winning scientists issued a declaration supporting research cloning, arguing that an across-the-board ban "would have a chilling effect on all scientific research in the United States".

A ban, they said, would be "unprecedented and ill-conceived", placing medical research and development in the United States at a dangerous disadvantage with foreign competitors.

But Mr Bush was having none of this. "Life is a creation, not a commodity, he said. "Our children are not products to be designed and manufactured."

Conjuring up a nightmarish vision of a world in which "human beings are grown to provide spare body parts", the President said that whatever the technical distinction between reproductive cloning and research cloning, in practice it would be impossible to enforce. Even stem cell research using embryos would "require the destruction of nascent human life", he said.

In words which will delight anti-abortionists and the social conservatives who are an important part of his political base, Mr Bush spoke of the "fundamental principle that no human life should be exploited or extinguished for the benefit of another".

President's Bush's attitude towards cloning has, if anything, hardened since last August when he gave grudging approval to federal funding for research on existing human stem cell lines. Yesterday he called for more support for the research, which, he said, did not involve the destruction of human life.

A bipartisan Bill outlawing cloning has already been overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives. In the Senate, advocates of a ban have been heartened by the support of Bill Frist of Tennessee, the lone doctor in the Senate and an influential voice on medical issues, who has come round in support of President Bush.

Their cause has also been helped by an unconfirmed report that the controversial Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori has successfully established a cloned pregnancy, now in its eighth week.

The claim, which was made last week in the Gulf News has been widely discounted in America, but the very thought of it has heightened alarm ahead of the vote.