WASHINGTON - The Senate's only medical doctor is calling for a complete ban on human cloning, including embryos created for stem-cell research.
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., an influential voice in medical debates, will join President Bush, other senators, doctors and anti-abortion leaders at the White House on Wednesday to endorse a ban-cloning bill by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.
All senators are expected to support some kind of ban on human cloning. But they are split between Brownback's bill, a version of which was passed last year by the House, and one by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
Brownback's legislation would forbid the cloning of human embryos for any reason.
Kennedy's measure would allow cloning only for the purpose of harvesting stem cells from embryos for research into possible cures of various afflictions, including spinal-cord injuries and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.
A National Institutes of Health report last year said that stem cells "may hold the key" to replacing cells lost in many diseases and injuries.
Frist's move is a blow to Kennedy because last year the Tennessee lawmaker supported the federal funding of research using stem cells from frozen human embryos produced through in vitro fertilization.
Frist explained Tuesday: "I don't believe ethically you should create embryos for the specific purpose of research and destruction for those embryos. My support of embryonic stem-cell research is for the use of embryos that are not specifically created for research purposes. So the intent of the embryo is what is important."
For his part, Kennedy noted: "He' a very important leader on health policy issues, but I differ with him on this and I think the Senate is closely divided."
Interest groups on both sides of the subject expect Frist to have an impact on the debate.
Mary Cannon, executive director of Stop Human Cloning, said, "It's a very encouraging sign. Sen. Frist is a respected voice on medical research and on ethical issues. A number of senators have been looking to him for guidance on this issue."
"It was very disappointing," said Michael Manganiello, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research. While a lot of senators do look to Frist for advice, "we have more scientific ammunition that's going to come to the floor," said Manganiello.
Manganiello said that cloning embryos is just another technique for obtaining stem cells.
But Frist argues that current stem-cell lines should be fully tested before resorting to cloning and that drugs and gene therapy are other remedies for those with immune deficiencies.