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Senate panel defers human cloning ban

One senator called on the two sides in the moral debate to compromise on a ban that would prohibit cloning for human reproduction but allow continued use of embryonic stem cells for research that could cure disease.

The Senate Judiciary B Committee voted 4-3 to defer action on House Bill 492 after Sen. Charles Jones, D-Monroe, made the unity plea.

If the bill dies, Louisiana would not have a cloning ban for human reproduction. But no such cloning is being done here.

Congress is also wrestling with the subject.

The legislation pits religious and anti-abortion interests that favor the House-passed measure against medical researchers and those hoping for cures for diabetes, Parkinson's and other diseases.

Disappointed proponents huddled in the hallway outside the Senate committee after the vote to plot the next step, including an attempt to get the Senate to force the legislation to the Senate floor.

"I can't tell you my strategy right now, but stay tuned," said Sen. Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, who is handling the bill on the Senate side.

Before the vote, Sen. Jay Dardenne, R-Baton Rouge, proposed changing the legislation to take out controversial wording that would ban embryonic stem-cell research.

"I would like the state of Louisiana on record saying we are not in support of human cloning from the standpoint of creating another human being," Dardenne said.

Committee chairman Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Grosse Tete, noted that the bill's backers were shaking their heads in disagreement as Dardenne spoke.

Sen. Don Cravins, D-Opelousas, said Dardenne's amendments would kill the bill.

"We talk about life and the embryonic stage of life," Cravins said. "I'd rather err on the side of life."

Sen. Ken Hollis, R-Metairie, said plenty of adult stem-cell research can be done without having to get into the issues surrounding embryonic stem cells.

Broome delivered an impassioned plea as she asked the panel to send the measure to the full Senate.

"When does life begin?," Broome asked. "I believe that human life is the gift of our Creator and should never be for sale or experimentation."

"Where does this issue fall on your moral barometer, if you will, in terms of life?" she concluded.

Senate President Don Hines, D-Bunkie, a physician, countered that no life is being destroyed.

"I'm pro-life. I'm against cloning," said Hines, author of the initial anti-cloning bill. "They call this one-cell organ an embryo. … They want you to think it's a living, breathing, kicking human being."

It's not, he said.

The research involved is called somatic-cell nuclear transfer. It involves the removal of the nucleus of an unfertilized egg and replacing it with a skin, muscle or other nonreproductive cell from a donor.

In what is referred to as therapeutic cloning, the egg would be stimulated to divide and create stem cells.

Hines said stem cells offer the possibility of cures to incurable diseases, "relief from unfathomable pain and suffering and death sentences for some individuals."

"We shouldn't deny the citizens of Louisiana the advances in this medicine," he said.

With Hines were Dr. Alan Miller of Tulane University, Dr. Claude Bouchard, executive director of LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, and residents touched personally by diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

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