Meanwhile, Sen. Dede Alpert, D-Coronado, chairwoman of the Senate genetics committee, recently introduced SB 1230, which would ban human reproductive cloning, or that leading to the creation of a genetically identical person.
A 12-member state advisory committee, made up of ethicists, lawyers and medical experts, issued recommendations Tuesday that embraced both of the proposed concepts. The committee suggested that California ban human reproductive cloning but allow government-regulated embryonic research. The panel also recommended that the Legislature delegate oversight of cloning to a state agency.
The recommendations come as a five-year California ban on human cloning slowly approaches its Dec. 31 expiration. Lawmakers passed the original ban in 1997 after Scottish scientists cloned the lamb Dolly from an adult sheep cell. Under the existing state ban, reproductive cloning is prohibited, but stem cell research, also called therapeutic cloning, is not. The debate regained momentum nationally last November when Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts firm, said it had cloned a human embryo for the first time.
In Washington, the House has passed a bill that would prohibit cloning and stem cell research, but the U.S. Senate has balked so far. If the federal bill does not pass, state law would prevail. "Not having any idea if the (U.S.) Senate will act, when they will act or what they will do, it seems to me we should be moving forward as a state," Alpert said. "Whether we will actually wind up informing or guiding federal policy, who knows? But I think at this point we should continue with the process."
Members of the advisory committee wrote their report after more than two years of discussion and public meetings. They recommended a ban on human reproductive cloning because the procedure hasn't proven safe and it raises several social and ethical problems. "A child would be both the genetic twin and perhaps the child of the parent, and how would that role work out?" asked Bernard Lo, a panelist and medical ethics director at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine.
There appears to be political and public consensus to support such a ban. A February 2001 Time/CNN poll showed that 90 percent of respondents said it is a bad idea to clone humans. But while the Alpert bill may sail through the Legislature, the Ortiz bill could prove more controversial.
Tuesday's debate indicated that some lawmakers and anti-abortion groups would oppose stem cell research, despite the panel's recommendation otherwise. In its report, the committee supported such research as long as studies are regulated and embryos do not reach the "primitive streak," a stage that occurs after about two weeks.
Researchers say stem cells could grow into various other cell types that would then be used to repair damaged parts of the body and heal devastating illnesses. "This could change lives or improve the lives of literally millions of Californians," said Henry Greely, a panelist and Stanford University law professor.
But Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, objected to the panel's recommendation because stem cell remedies are unproven and require the killing of embryos, which he called "potential lives." "How do we as a society do something that we know is going to terminate something over here on the hope and prayer that we do something good over there?" asked Battin, co-author of the 1997 cloning ban.
Among those offering support for therapeutic cloning were advocates for a cure for Parkinson's disease. "People are suffering," said Maxine Milner Krugman, president of the Parkinson Association of the Sacramento Valley. "California must support this report with action and show leadership in this area."
Anti-abortion groups equated stem cell research with killing and urged lawmakers to find other ways to cure diseases. "This is high-tech cannibalism," said Art Croney, executive director of the Committee on Moral Concerns. "This isn't right. California has no business going here."
Stem cell research would continue unless state or federal lawmakers decide otherwise. Battin said he has not decided whether to propose legislation that would ban such studies. Gov. Gray Davis has no clear position on the issue.