WASHINGTON -- More than 25 religious and scientific leaders have signed a new "manifesto on biotechnology" that calls for the banning of all human cloning and legislation that will prevent discrimination based on genetic information.
"We are thankful for the hope that biotechnology offers of new treatments for some of the most dreaded diseases," says the declaration. "But the same technology can be used for good or ill."
Signatories on "The Sanctity of Life in a Brave New World: A Manifesto on Biotechnology" include Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson, Focus on the Family President James Dobson and physicians Ben Carson and C. Everett Koop.
The document, released Wednesday (Feb. 5), was produced by the Council for Biotechnology Policy, an initiative of the Wilberforce Forum, which is a division of Colson's ministries.
"We come together as those who hold dear the sanctity of human life, and who sound an alarm as we see fresh and horrific assaults on the dignity of our own kind," said Nigel Cameron, director of the council, in a statement unveiling the three-page document.
He urged Americans from a variety of religious and political persuasions to join in signing the manifesto to declare "that the wonders of biotechnology must serve and never suborn human beings."
Cameron cited plans of scientists to use and destroy cloned human embryos and recent developments by the Human Genome Project as primary causes for concern.
Other signatories, such as quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada, president of Joni and Friends, a ministry to the disabled, supported the use of adult stem cells for research rather than cells from embryos to address possible cures for disease.
"The search for a cure should never compromise the security of human dignity and respect for human life,' she said. "The elderly, infirmed and disabled are exposed and threatened in a society which thinks nothing of creating a class of human beings for the explicit purpose of exploitation."
Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson of the Knights of Columbus said he considers cloning to be "a new form of biotech slavery."
"As we enter this new, biotech century, let us be on guard that no human being, however early in his or her development, is ever made the slave of another," said Anderson, a representative of the Catholic fraternal organization.
The manifesto, which refers to recent claims about the first cloned human, also addresses concerns about scientific advances in treating genetic diseases.
"We seek a wide-ranging review of patent law to protect human dignity from the commercial use of human genes, cells and other tissue," the document reads. "We believe that such public policy initiatives will help ensure the progress of ethical biotechnology while protecting the sanctity of human life."
Other signatories included Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council; the Rev. Maxie Dunham, president of Asbury Theological Seminary; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, president of the Institute for Religion and Public Life; and Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America.
The document came as several senators introduced the "Human Cloning Ban and Stem Cell Research Protection Act of 2003."
Groups such as the Christian Legal Society and the Pro-Life Secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, criticized the bill, saying its support of embryonic stem cell research does not respect human life. The chairman of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism welcomed the proposed legislation, saying it could help reduce human suffering.