A broad coalition of Christian clergy yesterday urged the Senate to quickly pass a bill banning the cloning of human embryos for any purpose, and warned senators that this vote would be crucial for pro-life constituencies in upcoming elections.
"Human cloning of any kind cheapens human life," said the Rev. Peter West, who represented Priests for Life at a press conference yesterday on a bill proposed by Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican.
"We will ask people to especially take into account the vote on [the Brownback bill] when they exercise their right and duty to vote in November."
The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said: "This will be one of the key issues in the midterm and presidential elections."
The House has passed an identical anti-cloning bill, and President Bush has called on the Senate to quickly pass the Brownback bill. The cloning debate is expected to reach the Senate floor this month.
Ten to 15 senators remain undecided; the rest of the Senate is divided on the issue. Some opponents of Mr. Brownback's bill favor alternative legislation that would ban the implantation of a cloned human embryo into a uterus but would allow "therapeutic" cloning - by which the human cloning procedure is used to extract stem cells for medical research.
Therapeutic cloning supporters have combined their efforts behind a bill that allows the procedure, which they say could hold the key to curing a host of ailments and diseases, and is backed Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican.
Some of the procedure's proponents argue it does not create a human embryo because sperm is not involved.
Religious leaders, led by the National Pro-Life Religious Council, have denounced this approach. They say it would allow the creation of human life - cloned human embryos - solely to be destroyed in the name of science, and that the Brownback bill is the only moral option.
"To 'manufacture' human life for the purpose of intentionally destroying it through experimentation is always and everywhere wrong," said the Rev. Keith A. Fournier, president of Common Good and a member of the Catholic Clergy.
Mr. Mahoney, a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, said senators cannot claim to be pro-life and oppose the Brownback bill in favor of the alternative cloning bill, as Mr. Hatch has done.
"You are not pro-life," Mr. Mahoney said to Mr. Hatch and other senators contemplating such a position. "You cannot have it both ways. A clear line in the sand must be drawn."
Mr. Mahoney said senators who vote for the cloning of human embryos for medical research can expect to lose support of pro-life groups.
Religious leaders compared the procedure to genetic experimentation conducted during the Holocaust.
"We decried that dehumanization as a travesty, but now seem ready to enter into a sequel, where those who have no voice will again become victims in the quest for innovation," said Randolph Sly, archbishop of the Eastern Province of the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
The Rev. Robert Schenck , president of NPRC, said his group has identified 11 senators who are undecided. The NPRC - which represents constituent groups within Evangelical Protestant, Old-line Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches - along with other religious leaders "will now begin a very aggressive visitation" of senators.
The religious community is not united on the issue. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice pointed out that the United Church of Christ, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Rabbinical Council all support therapeutic cloning.
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