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Sen. Thurmond backs cloning research

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Strom Thurmond became the second Republican opponent of abortion rights this week to split with the Bush administration, signing onto a bill that would ban most human cloning but allow an exception for research purposes.

The 99-year-old senator followed the lead of conservative Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who threw his support behind the legislation earlier this week.

"During my consideration of the new and emerging areas of regenerative medicine, including nuclear transplantation technologies, two basic principles have guided my thoughts," said Thurmond, R-South Carolina, in a written statement.

"First, as someone who has taken a pro-life stance, I believe that Congress should pursue policies that encourage the development of life-saving treatments. Second, nuclear transplantation research, if performed under the strictest of safeguards, is both moral and ethical."

The bill -- sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania -- would make human cloning a federal crime, with penalties up to $1 million dollars and 10 years in prison. But it would allow research cloning, or what scientists and advocates refer to as "regenerative medicine," which they say has the potential to find cures for diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes.

Thurmond, like Hatch, also broke with his party last year in supporting a measure to allow federal funding for stem cell research.

The South Carolinian's daughter has diabetes, one of the diseases scientists hope to help cure using regenerative medicine.

A Thurmond spokeswoman said that although his daughter's condition played a role in making him "more sensitive to the issue, the decision was based on the facts and research presented to him."

A competing bill sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, which has the backing of President Bush, would ban all cloning.

Many lawmakers who are abortion rights opponents believe allowing any research using human eggs would provide a "slippery slope" to cloning human beings.

Anti-abortion groups were outraged at Hatch's decision earlier this week.

"Sen. Hatch has proclaimed to the nation that he supports the creation of tiny human beings to be experimented on and then killed. By choosing to support this legislation, he has abandoned the true pro-life position reflected in Sen. Brownback's bill that bans all forms of cloning and has won the support of President Bush," said a statement by Concerned Women for America.

Hatch, in announcing his decision to support nuclear transplantation in regenerative medicine research, said an important factor for him was the fact that the egg, with its nucleus removed, is never fertilized with sperm in the procedure.

Hatch and Thurmond both said supporting research that has the potential to save lives is in keeping with a "pro-life" philosophy.

"While I respect those who disagree with me, I believe that support for regenerative medicine is the essence of the pro-life position," said Thurmond.

The Senate is expected to debate the issue of cloning as early as this month.




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