Monday, May 3, 2010

Ohio bill to ban human cloning draws fire from stem cell

An Ohio senator has reintroduced legislation stem cell researchers had hoped would never again see the light of day: a cloning ban some in the medical industry fear will hurt innovation in the state.

If you think you’ve heard this story before, it’s because you have–a similar drama played out during the 2007-2008 legislative session after the same senator introduced a similar bill. That bill never made it to a vote. However, a research ban inserted into other legislation was vetoed by Gov. Ted Strickland in 2008.

Sen. Steve Buehrer, a Republican from Delta in Northwest Ohio, is the man behind both bills. The latest proposal, Senate Bill 243, would ban human cloning, “human-animal hybrids,” as well as transferring a nonhuman embryo into a human womb and vice versa.

“The idea is to ban some of these perverse and immoral activities that masquerade as scientific research,” Buehrer said.

Anyone who violates the law would be subject to a maximum of five years in prison, plus a monetary fine that would take effect if the offender reaped any financial gain from the activities the bill would outlaw. Buehrer stressed that the bill wouldn’t affect research on adult stem cells.

Even though the bill’s text doesn’t contain the words “stem cells,” researchers in the field say if the legislation passed, it would harm the state’s ability to attract grants and top-notch biomedical researchers.

“Trying to ban everything because there’s cloning in the title doesn’t make a lot of sense when you’re trying to grow the state’s bioscience industry,” said Debra Grega, executive director of the The Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Grega pointed out a recent report from economic development group BioOhio that showed 18 percent job growth in the state’s bioscience industry between 2000 and 2008. The figure is all the more impressive when compared with an overall 4.2 percent decline in the number of jobs in Ohio over that same period.

Grega drew a distinction between reproductive cloning–creating humans–and therapeutic cloning, which is done for research purposes and can lead to breakthroughs in treating diseases. She said the bill was written too broadly and fails to reflect that distinction. “Everyone agrees no one should be doing reproductive cloning,” she said.

While Buehrer would no doubt raise a glass to that sentiment, he also opposes therapeutic cloning that involves human embryos. It’s an open question as to how much of what the bill seeks to ban actually happens in Ohio. However, Grega said that due to the bill’s “broad language,” it “would likely impact the work of a number of researchers here and throughout the state.”

Fifteen states have laws pertaining to human cloning, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It’s unclear whether Buehrer’s proposal stands a better chance of becoming law this time around. But with Democrats in control of the House and the governor’s mansion, don’t bet on it.

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