News from the Field - Summer 2003

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U.S. House Votes to Ban All Human Cloning

By a margin of 241-155, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a comprehensive ban on human cloning. Passage came after several hours of debate and the offer ing of a substitute amendment that would have changed the bill from a comprehensive ban to a “reproductive only” ban. Concerning the vote, Center President John Kilner said, “The passage of the cloning ban by the House is a wonderful statement of our country’s determination not to let the lure of scientific achievement or financial gain run roughshod over ethics. If news events of the last year have shown us anything, it is that cutting ethical corners in the pursuit of prosperity is not a wise long-term approach. May the Senate have the courage to chart a similar course.”

A similar bill (5. 245) has been introduced in the Senate, where it awaits consideration. The bill’s fate in the Senate is far from certain. Sixty votes are necessary in order to end debate and bring the bill to a final vote, even though only a majority vote is required for passage. President Bush has promised to sign legislation enacting a comprehensive ban.

UK: Court Rules for Genetic Father in IVF Mix-Up

Last year in Leeds, UK, a black man’s sperm was mistakenly used to fertilize a white woman’s eggs in an IVF procedure. A family court was asked to rule on whether the twins’ biological father or the husband of the white woman was the legal parent. The court ruled that under the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990, the genetic father was the legal father. However, the court stressed that the twins should not be uprooted from their “happy and loving environment” provided by the white couple with whom they have lived since birth.

After the decision, the white couple decided to adopt the children so that their “social and psychological father” would also be their legal father. The black couple remains childless. The biological father may decide to petition the court for visitation rights. The gaffe has caused the country’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to require increased oversight of fertility treatments in the nation’s clinics.

Girl Dies After Organ Transplant Mix-Up

Jésica Santillán, 17, was a Mexican immigrant who came to the U.S. three years ago because of a heart condition. After physicians at Duke University Hospital performed a heart-lung transplant on the girl, they realized that the organs were obtained from a donor who had a different blood type. Consequently, Jésica’s body immediately began rejecting the organs. New organs were obtained and transplanted into her, but she had already suffered irreversible brain damage. Two weeks after her initial transplant, Jésica died.

This situation has raised anew questions about the ethics of transplantation and the fairness with which organs are distributed. With regard to this case, some are arguing that Jésica did not receive a fair chance at survival the first time and was therefore entitled to receive the second organ transplant ahead of other waiting candidates. Others are arguing that even though the situation was a tragic one, the botched transplant left Jésica in such a poor state of health that she no longer should have been considered a possible transplant candidate. Because of the deci sion, not only did Jésica die, but someone else may likely die also as the result of not receiving a heart and/or lung transplant. This tragic outcome will likely prompt a serious examination of the problems plaguing organ distribution, especially in problem cases such as this.

Dolly, the First Cloned Mammal, Euthanized

The first”successful” clone, Dolly the sheep, has been euthanized. She died at the age of 6, about half the life-span of a normal sheep. She was suffering from a progressive lung infection, one that is common in older sheep. In the past year, it was made public that she suffered from problems such as arthritis that sheep typically face only in old age. Scientists familiar with Dolly indicated that she was quite young by sheep standards to be euthanized and questioned whether her condition could be linked to premature aging due to the cloning process.

A full autopsy will be performed to see if any light can be shed on her demise. Afterward, Dolly will be put on display at the National Museum of Scotland.