The council did agree in their report issued Thursday that cloning for reproductive purposes should be banned altogether.
A slim majority, 10 members of the council, supported a four-year moratorium on cloning research to allow for more public debate. Seven members held that scientists should be allowed to proceed with strict governmental regulation. One member took no position.
In issuing the two recommendations, the council said they felt it was better to publicly state their differences than force a “spurious consensus.”
“The council, reflecting the differences of opinion in American society, is divided regarding the ethics of research involving cloned embryos,” the report said. “Yet we agree that all parties to the debate have concerns vital to defend.”
The split recommendation appeared to undercut President Bush’s push for a permanent ban on cloning. Last year, the House passed a bill totally banning all cloning. In April, the president urged the Senate to do the same.
“Advances in biomedical technology must never come at the expense of human conscience,” Mr. Bush said. “As we seek what is possible, we must always ask what is right, and we must not forget that even the most noble ends do not justify any means.”
The council agreed the government ought to completely ban all cloning for reproductive purposes, citing both scientific and ethical reasons. In reproductive cloning, the genetic code of one person would be used to create an identical twin. Scientists predict any baby created by this method would be prone to severe deformities.
Therapeutic cloning, however, would never create a human being, but instead would be used to grow an organ or treat degenerative diseases.
President Bush assembled the 18-member council in November 2001 to advise him and Congress on sensitive ethical issues in science and medical technology.
Largely composed of academics, the council debated some of the issues at the core of the cloning debate such as does the potential of cloning technology to treat disease outweigh any ethical value of a human embryo?
Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, expressed disappointment in the council’s findings.
“The recommendations made today by a slim majority of the President’s Bioethics Council could be devastating to those patients who would be forced to wait longer for cures and treatments if a moratorium were adopted,” Feldbaum said.
It is not yet clear what effect the council’s report will have in the Senate. Sen. Sam Brownback, a leading supporter of the bill to ban all cloning, said last month that he would consider a two-year moratorium on further research if there were not enough votes for a permanent ban.