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The Economist

Biology and politics

The great cloning debate

A guide to a battlefield that crosses parties, faiths and ideologies

  • Timekeeper

SOMETIME this month the Senate will vote on the Human Cloning Prohibition Act. The bill would make cloning human cells a federal crime, punishable by up to ten years in jail and fines of $1m. It would ban not just baby cloning (that is, transplanting a cloned embryo into a woman’s womb), but therapeutic cloning as well (embryo cloning in the hope of curing genetic diseases such as diabetes).

Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Senators Sam Brownback and Mary Landrieu, say the debate will be the first opportunity for Congress to regulate the hard ethical dilemmas raised by biomedical advances. (Last year’s narrower debate over the related subject of stem-cell research ended in George Bush deciding that it could get government money.) The House of Representatives passed a version of the Senate cloning bill last July. Mr Bush has said he will sign the ban if it passes.

Opponents view the bill as an attack on basic science. They back a rival measure, sponsored by Senators Edward Kennedy and Arlen Specter, to ban baby cloning but permit the therapeutic kind. This will be debated at the same time.

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