Reeve, paralyzed from the neck down after a horse-riding accident in 1995, is a strong proponent of nuclear transplantation research using embryonic stem cells for therapeutic purposes. "You can provide the patient's own DNA, so you avoid the immune system rejection," the wheel-chair bound Reeve said of the process, which many in the medical community have said could lead to treatments such devastating illnesses as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cancer and spinal cord injuries. The US Senate is due to consider a bill including therapeutic cloning this year, but the emotional nature of the issue promises any legislative process will be very difficult.
Stem cells have the potential to mutate into any other type of cell in the body. Researchers believe that if they can be successfully engineered, they could be used to replaced old, damaged or diseased tissue. The controversy arises because stem cells can be obtained from human adult cells, the placenta and the umbilical cord, or from embryos obtained through therapeutic cloning. Some critics fear the distinction between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning will get increasingly blurred.
But, Reeve said, "even if the government takes no action or bans it, bans cloning, somebody's going to try to do it someplace anyway." Strict ethical guidelines were needed, he said, rejecting the idea that the threat of medical researchers going the extra step into cloning humans was enough to ban the research altogether.
"I want strict government oversight of therapeutic cloning with funding by the NIH (National Institutes of Health), so it's controlled and regulated, But once you get private companies doing it on their own, it's going to be chaos," he said.
President George W. Bush, several lawmakers and groups opposed to human cloning have urged the Senate to act quickly to ban the practice. The Republican-led House of Representatives approved a motion banning all forms of human cloning in July 2001.