Minnesota House Committee Passes Human Cloning Ban Bill

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 15, 2011   |   5:57PM   |   St. Paul, MN

No sooner did lawmakers introduce legislation to ban human cloning than a House committee took up the measure for a hearing and approved it, sending it ahead in the legislative process.

Minnesota pro-life advocates have sought the ban ever since the University of Minnesota’s attempts to clone human beings came to light several years ago. Laboratories around the world are in competition to be the first to successfully clone a human being and the University of Minnesota’s Stem Cell Institute is believed to be pursuing human cloning as well.

The ban on human cloning, H.F. 998, is authored by Rep. Bob Dettmer, a Republican from Forest Lake while the Senate version of the bill was introduced with Senate President Michelle Fischbach, a Republican from Paynesville, as its lead author.

Jordan Bauer, of the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life testified for the bill, according to the Hometown Sources newspaper and defined cloning to lawmakers as “creating a genetically identical copy of a human being.”

“Human life must be treated with dignity, not as mere raw material for experimentation,” says Bauer “This bill will ensure that living members of our species are not created for the purpose of dissecting and destroying them.”

Rep. Debra Hilstrom, a Democrat, said she was aware of research in Minnesota attempting to grow human organs and asked the difference between growing organs and growing human beings. Bauer drew a distinction, saying growing an internal organ did not involve growing identical human embryos, the newspaper said.

The House judiciary committee passed the bill on a voice vote and now it goes to the House health and human services committee to receive approval before heading to the House floor.   

Previous attempts to ban human cloning gained traction among lawmakers and citizens, but fell short of the votes needed to become law. The state legislature passed a ban on taxpayer funding of human cloning in 2009, which pro-life Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed into law. That ban needs to be re-authorized in 2011, unless cloning is banned outright, MCCL officials said.

Human cloning is a technique that combines an enucleated egg (nucleus removed) and the nucleus of a somatic cell (e.g. skin cell) to make a human being in the embryonic stage of development, according to the National Institutes of Health. Somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT, is the scientific term for cloning. SCNT can be used for “therapeutic” or “reproductive” purposes, but the initial process that combines an enucleated egg and a somatic cell’s nucleus is identical. Human cloning could in theory provide a means of large-scale production of human embryos for experiments, conjuring up disturbing images of embryo farming to manufacture and supply laboratories with raw human material.

Many eminent stem cell researchers are turning away from human cloning in favor of alternatives that offer greater therapeutic promise. Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute conducted embryonic stem cell research on mice for years before abandoning it.

“With nuclear transfer you never get normal embryos,” Jaenisch told The Scientist magazine. He said SCNT is “of no practical relevance” and that he would never use it in dealing with human embryos.

Prof. Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep, has decided to give up his efforts to clone human life. A group of eight scientists published an article in Mayo Clinic Proceedings calling for a rejection of human cloning, describing it as “an abuse of scientific freedom, not its realization.”

“No amount of supposed benefit can ever justify human cloning’s utilitarian treatment of life,” Bauer said. “MCCL applauds this move by legislators to protect human life from replication, manipulation and destruction.” [related]

MCCL worries that human cloning “promises a means of large-scale production of human embryos for experiments, conjuring up gruesome images of embryo farming to manufacture and supply laboratories with raw human material.”

Pawlenty also, in 2008, vetoed the Kahn-Cohen Cloning Bill, which would have legalized human cloning and forced taxpayers to pay for the destruction of human life. Pro-life advocates strongly opposed the legislation, SF 100, because it funds human cloning and the killing of human embryos at the University of Minnesota.

In his veto message, Pawlenty, considered a potential running mate for John McCain, described the human embryo-destructive experiments as “crossing core ethical and moral boundaries.”

“Significant and promising progress continues to be made on the use of adult stem cells. This creates ample opportunity to work toward lifesaving cures,” Pawlenty said. “We should encourage this science.”