Minnesota Governor Dayton Vetoes Bill to Ban Human Cloning

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 24, 2011   |   6:04PM   |   St. Paul, MN

Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed legislation that would have prevented the cloning of human embryos in Minnesota, and the funding of such experiments. Both pro-life measures were strongly supported by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the statewide pro-life group.

“MCCL was hopeful that Gov. Dayton would act to ban the senseless cloning of human beings,” the organization’s director Scott Fischbach said. “Human dignity demands that life be respected and protected, not treated as mere raw material in laboratories.”

Dayton’s vetoes today mean that the cloning of human embryos (but not their destruction) remains legal in Minnesota.

“MCCL and the state’s large majority who oppose human cloning will continue to work to establish a ban on all forms of human cloning,” Fischbach said. “Our hope is that Gov. Dayton will listen to the people and their elected officials, who want to prevent this unethical treatment of human life in our state.”

Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, and Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, sponsored the legislation to ban human cloning and lawmakers ultimately included it in the Health and Human Services omnibus bill. The language of the bill banned human cloning for any purpose.

Opponents of the ban, primarily the University of Minnesota, claimed that producing a human organism by cloning and then destroying it after five to 10 days, is not cloning.
However, the National Institutes of Health defines cloning as the process of combining an enucleated egg (oocyte) with a somatic (i.e. body) cell nucleus to make an embryo. Whether the cloned embryo is destroyed or allowed to live does not change the definition of cloning.

Minnesota’s 1973 Human Conceptus statute (MN Statute 145.422) prohibits “the use of a living human conceptus for any type of scientific, laboratory research or other experimentation.” Dr. John Wagner, director of the U of M’s Stem Cell Institute, admitted in testimony on March 17 that cloning creates a human conceptus: “Once you insert a nucleus into that oocyte you get an embryo.” A cloned embryo cannot be destroyed or used for experiments without violation of the statute.

Minnesota legislators also attached a ban on taxpayer funding of human cloning to the omnibus bill. The Legislature passed a similar ban in 2009 after learning that the U of M was considering conducting human cloning experiments with state funds (the 2009 ban must be reauthorized every two years). The human cloning funding ban would permanently
prevent state taxpayer funds from being used to clone human beings.

A 2005 International Communications Research poll showed 75% of Americans strongly oppose the use of human cloning for any reason. For years, poll after poll has shown overwhelming opposition to human cloning in the United States. North and South Dakota, Michigan and Iowa are among the states that have banned human cloning.

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.

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.”

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.”

ACTION: Contact Governor Dayton to complain at https://mn.gov/governor/