The (Minnesota) clone wars: Is there a scientist in the House (or Senate)?

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Sometimes politics and science do not mix, as illustrated by the GOP effort in Minnesota to push a so-called cloning ban that, as written, would bring the state’s stem cell research to a halt. Republican state Sen. Michelle Fischbach believes that the state should criminalize somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) because, as she wrongly states, it constitutes “human cloning.” SCNT, however, is not human cloning but is a method often used to create stem cells from a person’s own DNA without using embryos or even embryonic cells. The ban proposed by Sen. Fischbach does not, however, distinguish between “therapeutic cloning,” which is only used to generate a few cells, and “reproductive cloning,” which might have the potential to produce a complete embryo. No one, however, supports the use of this technology to create a human embryo. It is not being done anywhere, and even if it theoretically were, it would require implantation into a woman’s actual uterus to become a fetus. It’s just not going to happen, period.

During the legislative session, Sen. Kathy Sheran, of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, expressed concern that the proposal would mislead the public into thinking human cloning and SCNT were one and the same and suggested adding an amendment that provided a clear definition of human cloning. Sen. Fischbach countered, “I think ‘human cloning’ is pretty clear,” but when pressed to explain the biology of SCNT, she shot herself in the foot by responding: “I am, unfortunately, not a scientist.” Ultimately, the Senate Republicans blocked the amendment.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross came up with some possible reasons for Sen. Fischbach’s motivation: “Well, she may not be intentionally trying to mislead the public — she may just be ignorant,” he quips. “When I read stories like this about legislators ruling on scientific issues, I realize why we have all of these bans of safe and useful products — because these people have no idea what they’re talking about. They get hundreds of letters from card-toting members of the NRDC, EWG and who knows which other fringe groups, saying, ‘We need to ban this chemical for the sake of our children!’ and then, lo and behold, the legislature votes to ban it. In this case, the Minnesota Senate has been presented with the science, and yet the majority are making the issue into a moral one, although if they listened to the science, they would know it’s not even a moral issue. There is neither a scientific nor a moral reason why you should be against SCNT. Embryos aren’t harmed in the process, and it provides a vast potential to treat illnesses that are currently incurable.”