(CNSNews.com) - Iowa's General Assembly is considering a bill that would lift the state's prohibition on human cloning and replace it with a statute allowing cloning for some purposes, including the production of embryonic stem cells.
The proposed change would alter Iowa's definition of cloning in order to ban somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) for reproduction but still allow the process for the production of embryos for embryonic stem cells research.
Iowa law written in 2002 bans all human cloning, whether reproductive or "therapeutic" - "therapeutic" because of what proponents say is the potential for future cures, although opponents prefer the term "destructive," given the fate of the embryo cloned for this purpose.
Both ends - the production of a child and the creation of an embryo for its stem cells - are achieved through SCNT, in which the nucleus of a human cell is implanted into an egg.
According to the text of the bill, introduced by Democratic Rep. Mary Mascher, its purpose is "to ensure that Iowa patients have access to stem cell therapies and cures and that Iowa researchers may conduct stem cell research and develop therapies and cures in the state, and to prohibit human reproductive cloning."
The bill passed the Iowa Senate Feb. 14 and is currently under consideration in the House. The committee assigned to review the bill on Feb. 19 recommended full House passage.
Some scientists believe embryonic stem cells may be helpful in producing treatments and cures for a variety of diseases including cancers and Parkinson's disease because of the cells' ability to become any kind of human cell or tissue.
Opponents argue that the bill outlaws one type of cloning while allowing another, calling the language of the law "deceptive."
Joseph Cella, president of the Catholic advocacy organization Fidelis, said in a statement Wednesday that Iowans "are being told that the current proposal would not involve human cloning when in fact the proposed legislation explicitly authorizes the use of scientific techniques that involve the cloning of human embryos for research purposes."
Cella said the legislation is "another deceptive attempt by renegade scientists intent on pursuing scientific experiments that ignore the ethical and scientific problems associated with the cloning and destruction of human embryos."
Pro-life activists oppose embryonic stem cell research, because they believe that human life begins at conception and that the destruction of an embryo for harvesting its stem cells amounts to murder.
They instead advocate for research into adult stem cells, which can be harvested from numerous locations in the body, including bone marrow and nasal tissue, without harming the donor.
"The new cloning techniques authorized under this legislation are unproven," Cella said of embryonic stem cell research. "Iowans interested in stem cell research should instead keep their focus on non-embryo killing methods that are much more likely to lead to real cures."
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, opponents of embryonic stem cell research point out that adult stem cells have resulted in treatments - as opposed to cures - for more than 70 conditions.
Nine of those treatments have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Research on embryonic stem cells has yet to yield similar treatments.
Mascher, the bill's sponsor in the Iowa House, did not respond to calls requesting comment Thursday. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, has called on the legislature to pass the measure.
In a statement in January, Culver said allowing embryonic stem cell research in the state would "restore hope for thousands of Iowans" and proposed spending $12.5 million to construct the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Iowa to conduct research.
"We must commit state resources now to finding a cure and ensuring a high quality of life for future generations," Culver said.
"While surrounding states like Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri are moving forward to build research facilities, lure away our researchers and pass new legislation allowing embryonic stem cell research, Iowa continues to tie the hands of our best health science professionals with an outdated ban on this lifesaving research," he added.
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