The President's Council on Bioethics, which advises US President George W. Bush on thorny issues in medicine and biology, is edging towards recommending a moratorium on cloning human embryos for research.
At its meeting in Washington DC on 20 June, all of the council's members supported a ban on cloning to produce a human baby. But they were divided on 'therapeutic' cloning, which would create embryonic cells in order to study the early stages of human development. The majority of the council supports a moratorium of two to six years on research cloning, but a few of its 18 members — including some scientists — have voiced opposition to such a move.
The council's chairman, philosopher Leon Kass of the University of Chicago, says that the panel's report, expected to be published this summer, will probably include a majority verdict and some dissenting views. “When he made his decision on stem cells, the president got as much information as he could,” Kass says. “I don't think we'll do him a service if we don't make as strong a case as possible for the different sides” of the debate.
While the Senate has turned its attention away from the cloning issue, Sam Brownback (Republican, Kansas), who leads opposition there to therapeutic cloning, has vowed not to let the issue die (see Nature 417, 775; 200210.1038/417775b). Supporters of a moratorium say that backing from the bioethics council could help them garner the support they need.
Gene Tarne, a spokesman for a coalition of anti-cloning groups, says that most opponents of therapeutic cloning had not expected a firm recommendation from the council. If it backs a moratorium, he says, that could sway some senators to vote for it.
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