Congressman Dave Weldon is a Florida physician who's persuaded the House of Representatives once already to ban all human cloning, but today he's in a crowded Senate hearing room on the other side of the Capitol, lifting a thick notebook for senators, media and spectators to see. The notebook contains 80 studies that show the success of adult stem-cell therapy, studies he thinks should persuade the Senate to prohibit research involving stem cells extracted from cloned human embryos.
"I've got adult stem-cell successes for brain damage," Weldon tells the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space. "I've got adult stem-cell successes for cancer. I've got adult stem-cell successes for cerebral palsy, adult stem-cell successes for diabetes, adult stem-cell successes for eye disease, adult stem-cell successes for heart disease. I mean, it's not like if you take the time and look at the medical literature, there isn't a lot of evidence here."
Setting down the notebook, Weldon draws a bright red zero on a piece of cardboard and holds it up.
"There's zero [successes] using embryonic stem cells, zero using embryonic stem cells in humans, zero using [cloned cells] in humans. For animal [studies], it's the same number."
Then Weldon gets personal.
"I'm a physician. I took care of hundreds of patients with Parkinson's disease, paralysis, diabetes," he says. "I had an uncle I was very close to [who] died of Parkinson's disease. My father died of the complications of diabetes. And so I just want to set the record straight. I do not pursue this in a trivial fashion. If it were scientifically valid to make the claims that there are all these great promises of cloning, I would very, very seriously look at that."
Weldon is talking to the Senate because that's where his effort to ban cloning died last year. Then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat, reneged on a promise to bring a cloning ban to a vote.
Now Bill Frist, the Republican from Tennessee, runs the Senate, and he could bring anti-cloning legislation to a vote any day ― perhaps as early as the week this edition is scheduled to arrive in homes, in mid-March.
Congressman David Weldon, from Florida's 15th district, including Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center―launch site for the shuttle: CREDENTIALS
* Degree in internal medicine from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
* Residency in internal medicine at Letterman Army Medical Center, San Francisco, where he treated AIDS patients in the early 1980s, before physicians knew much about the disease.
* Practiced medicine at Melbourne (Fla.) Internal Medicine Associates, where he treated people with Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.
* Still sees patients one day a month at the Veterans Administration clinic in his district.
EVIDENCE Eighty studies showing success using adult stem cells in treating:
British media reported last June that a male nurse, 31-year-old Stephen Knox, was cured of leukemia after receiving an injection of stem cells from umbilical cord blood.
A British medical journal, The Lancet, reported in January 2002 that a 52-year-old woman with severe cancer of the thymus gland showed significant improvement after she received a transfusion of stem cells from her daughter.
David Ellis, a 44-year-old diabetic in Spokane, Wash., has cut his insulin doses in half since receiving an infusion of islet cells obtained from the pancreases of cadavers.
The clinical journal Ophthalmology reported last July that stems cells obtained from one eye can help reconstruct the damaged cornea of a patient's other eye.
Doctors in Germany reported in January that they injected stem cells in six patients' hearts and found five experienced improved blood flow.
A 57-year-old patient's motor skills improved markedly after he received neural stem cells harvested from his own brain, according to a report in April 2002 presented at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons' annual meeting in Chicago.
Eighty percent of patients with advanced MS showed mild improvement after receiving their own previously collected stem cells, according to researchers at the University of Washington Medical Center.
Weldon introduced his bill (H.R. 234) just after the 108th Congress was sworn in. His ally in the Senate, Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, submitted an identical bill (S. 245) three weeks later. But even with Republican control of the Senate, Weldon and Brownback face a difficult task: how to make the dangers of cloning vivid and compelling enough for the 20-odd swing votes in the Senate to gain a majority and pass a ban.
The next day, Brownback chaired a Senate subcommittee hearing on cloning that revealed just how low a standard some members of Congress are prepared to adopt. Leading the way was Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. He testified that, while he opposes "reproductive" cloning ― creating a clone and allowing it to live ― he supports "therapeutic" cloning ― creating a clone and killing it under "strict moral and ethical guidelines."
Hatch is a co-sponsor with Sens. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, of a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would permit therapeutic cloning.
Combating the Illogical How does a senator who once sponsored a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion justify cloning and killing a human embryo?
Hatch left the subcommittee hearing without taking questions from Brownback or other senators on the panel, but he read from his prepared statement that "human life does not begin in the petri dish. I believe that human life requires and begins in a mother's nurturing womb," a conclusion he reached "after many conversations with scientists, ethicists, patient advocates and religious leaders and many hours of thought, reflection and prayer."
Weldon told Citizen in an interview before the hearing that such reasoning is illogical. What makes an embryo distinctly human, he said, is not its location or method of production but its genetic profile.
Brownback, speaking at the subcommittee hearing, described the distinction between therapeutic and reproductive cloning as "misleading."
"However one would like to describe the process of destructive cloning, it is certainly not therapeutic for the clone who's been created and then disemboweled," he said.
Brownback later introduced another ally as a committee witness ― Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, which last July called for a four-year moratorium on human cloning.
"I offer four objections to human cloning to produce children," Kass testified. "One, it involves unethical experimentation on the unborn. Two, it threatens identity and individuality. Three, it turns procreation into manufacture. And four, it means despotism over children * giving one generation unprecedented control over the next and marking a major step toward a eugenic world in which children become objects of manipulation and products of will."
The subcommittee's ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon, challenged Kass' caution, insisting that "suffering Americans" cannot afford to wait for Congress to sort out its moral and ethical concerns.
"All of those with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and these dread diseases, they want to see the federal government get behind them," Wyden said. "They want to see the federal government go out and push as hard as it possibly can to find these cures."
Kass leaned forward, his voice quickening:
"Look, I don't think I take second place in the concern for the needs of suffering humanity. * One runs a terrible risk of cruelly exploiting the needs and wishes of patients with the promise that the cures are just around the corner. We don't know." Earlier, Kass was even more emphatic, describing the idea of embryonic stem-cell therapy as a "pipe dream."
There are limits to what a civilized society can do to help its citizens, Kass added.
"We do not allow the buying and selling of organs for transplantation even though lives might be saved," he said.
In a New York Times column published Jan. 24, Kass listed nations that seem to understand the moral perils involved in cloning.
"Germany, Italy, France, Norway, Australia and other democracies, many of which support embryo research, have said no to [cloning]," Kass wrote. "The European Parliament, hardly an arm of the religious right, has also called for the prohibition of all human cloning."
Biotech Hazards The question facing a closely divided Senate is, which voices will fence-sitting, finger-in-the-wind senators heed?
In Washington, D.C., money talks, and the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) speaks with a loud voice. Representing more than 1,000 companies, the BIO employs 70 people and operates on a $30 million budget in offices just a few blocks from the White House.
BIO-member companies swarmed Capitol Hill last year, rallying against the Weldon/Brownback legislation and supporting rival bills by Feinstein and Harkin.
The BIO is especially friendly toward Hatch, naming him its legislator of the year in 2000. Hatch received $400,000 in campaign contributions that year from biotech companies.
Weldon said grassroots pro-lifers must form new alliances to overcome biotech's influence.
"Some of our strongest allies in this battle are very strong pro-choice advocates," he told Citizen. "For example, Bernie Sanders ― a socialist congressman from Vermont, with a 100 percent abortion-rights voting record, is an original co-sponsor [of the Human Cloning Prohibition Act]. So, people shouldn't assume that this is the pro-life, conservative Christians against the pro-choice crowd. You can reach across the divide and have some unexpected allies."
Brownback told Citizen that activists should try to meet their senators face-to-face, at town hall meetings, for example, and state plainly that they oppose human cloning.
"Most members are out and around their state frequently, going to basketball games and major events. Citizens can show up and talk to them."
But what if Congress fails to approve a ban on all human cloning this year? What if the senators ignore the evidence Weldon presented? He offered Citizen a grim prediction:
Researchers will exploit college students and Third World women, paying them to undergo a risky procedure known as "superovulation," in which their ovaries are stimulated to produce an abundance of eggs. Back in the laboratory, the eggs would undergo somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT; see story on page 27), creating dozens of cloned human embryos.
Financing this effort will be individuals suffering from Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, or a hundred other conditions, who are willing to kill for a cure.
"Some of the people who are the strongest advocates for a lot of this stuff, like Dianne Feinstein, claim, in the same breath, to be the strong defenders of women and women's issues," Weldon said. "You are going to have these biotech companies going to South America and paying women to get their eggs. Some of these women are going to have complications; some of these women are going to have depression. I wouldn't even be surprised if some of them have severe depression and commit suicide over this kind of thing.
"It's really ghastly if you think about it. It's horrible."
WHO TO CONTACT: Contact your U.S. senators by calling the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121, or find contact information at www.citizenlinkorg by clicking on the Legislative Action Center.
WHAT TO SAY: Explain why you oppose all human cloning and support a complete ban, including a prohibition against cloning for "therapeutic" purposes.
* There's no evidence ― zero studies ― that stem cells extracted from cloned human embryos offer any benefit to patients with Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, paralysis or any other condition.
* More than 80 scientific reports show stem cells extracted from adults have proven effective in treating disease.
* The only way to stop human cloning is to outlaw it before it starts.
This article appeared in the April 2003 issue of Citizen magazine. Copyright © 2003 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.