WASHINGTON, March 28 (AP) - Scientists warned that human cloning is an ethically risky proposition likely to produce deformed babies, even as researchers who plan to move forward defended their plans before a congressional panel. The White House said President George W. Bush would sign a federal law outlawing this research.

Members of Congress appeared eager to send him this legislation, saying that even if the scientific and safety issues could be overcome, ethical issues remain.

``Cloning may literally threaten the character of our human nature,'' said Rep. Billy Tauzin, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Rep. Clifford Stearns went further: ``It interferes with the natural order of things,'' he said. ``People have a right to their own genetic makeup, which should not be replicated.''

Clones are created when the genetic material from a single adult cell is injected into an egg cell that has had its genes removed.

While mainstream scientists are unanimously opposed to human cloning, at least for now, two groups of scientists have promised to move ahead within the next year or two.

They defended their plans before the Commerce oversight subcommittee, likening their work to early efforts at invitro fertilization. Cloning, they said, can help infertile couples who want a biologically related child.

``Those that say ban it, those would not be the Neil Armstrongs that would fly us to the moon,'' said Panos Zavos, a reproduction researcher who resigned this month from the University of Kentucky to help lead the human cloning effort.

In any case, Zavos added, there's no way to stop the science now, four years after Scottish researchers succeeded in cloning a sheep. ``The genie's out of the bottle,'' he said.

Zavos is working with an Italian fertility doctor, Severino Antinori, and the pair has promised to clone a human within a year. They have promised to find a country, not the United States, where it is legal.

Meanwhile, a separate group plans work in the United States. The company, Clonaid, was founded by Rael, the leader of a religious organization called the Raelian Movement. The Raelians argue that life on Earth was created by extraterrestrial scientists.

``Traditional religions have always been against scientific progress,'' Rael said in written testimony. ``Nothing should stop science... Ethical committees are unnecessary and dangerous because they give power to conservative, obscurantist forces, which are guided only by traditional religious powers.''

Brigitte Boisselier, who directs Rael's lab, told the panel that her company received a letter this week from the Food and Drug Administration admonishing that it would be against the law to proceed with cloning without FDA permission. Boisselier said she did not know whether Clonaid would proceed anyway.

The FDA says any human cloning experiments in the United States would need its approval and, based on safety concerns, the agency would not approve any applications at this time.

Boisselier dismissed safety concerns, saying the problems have all come in cloning animals and do not apply to potential human cloning. She said she is working with a father who is devasted by the death of his son and wants to clone him.

The key to avoiding a deformed baby, she said, is simply checking the embryos that are to be implanted in surrogate mothers for genetic problems.

But that does not solve the problem, said Rudolf Jaenisch, a biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Embroyos with defects that can be identified will never make it to full term anyway. The problem is with abnormalities that cannot be spotted but will cause defects after the baby is born, he said.

Only a tiny percentage of cloned animals are born that appear to be normal. And some of these may in fact have brain development problems that are not apparent because animals are not sophisticated enough to demonstrate them, he said.

Congress worked on legislation banning cloning a couple years ago, but failed to produce a bill. Among the issues: Banning human cloning without stopping research that using similar techniques to fight disease.

Also Wednesday, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that Bush will work with Congress on a federal statute banning cloning.

``The president believes that no research - no research - to create a human being should take place in the United States,'' he said.

``The president believes that the moral and ethical issues posed by human cloning are profound and cannot be ignored even in the quest for scientific discovery,'' Fleischer said.

Fleischer noted that Bush supports former President Clinton's 1997 ban on federal funds for human cloning research.

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