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Cloning ban bill dies _ for good, scientists hope

A proposed ban on human cloning in Florida died Friday, and scientists opposed to the idea vowed to try to prevent the legislation from resurfacing next year.

Opponents say a complete ban could halt research that may eventually cure life-threatening diseases and also would make it difficult for Florida's fledgling biotechnology industry to develop, costing Floridians jobs.

Violators would have faced a 10-year prison sentence and a $1-million fine under the legislation (HB 805 and SB 1164) that passed the House, but stalled in the Senate.

Rep. Jim Kallinger, R-Winter Park, a sponsor of the House bill, said Friday he will introduce the legislation next year. "We were just one step away from the governor signing it," he said.

Biotechnology companies will try to prevent that, said Paul Hassie, president of BioFlorida, a Gainesville-based group that promotes the state's efforts to attract biotechnology companies.

"When legislators start restricting our scientific efforts, that can be very devastating from the standpoint of how investors look at the industry," he said.

Cloning research is still in its early stages, and banning it now would prevent pioneering research from ever being done, said Kenneth Goodman, a University of Miami professor and co-director of the Florida Bioethics Network.

A ban "is like telling the Wright brothers they needed to rely on springs and rubber bands," he said.

In cloning, scientists replace the nucleus of an egg with DNA from another adult cell. The reconstructed egg is then treated to make it divide and grow into an embryo.

Therapeutic cloning uses these cells for what some scientists say would be invaluable research trying to cure diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's. The process would destroy the embryo, something abortion opponents say would be killing human life.

Reproductive cloning would seek to create embryos to be brought to term and born. Most Florida researchers are against trying to do that, Hassie and Goodman agreed.

Goodman says scientists are not trying to skirt the difficult question at the heart of the debate _ when does life begin?

"We need to be sensitive to all sorts of constituencies," Goodman said. "But scientists are looking for guidance, not a door slammed in their faces."

Despite the ban's failure in the Legislature, Hassie said most researchers will not rush ahead with experiments.

A Florida ban would simply mean that experiments here would stop while scientists in other states or countries could move ahead with their studies, said Dennis Steindler, who does adult stem cell research at the University of Florida. The bills would not affect his research because it uses cells that are not cloned.

He and Goodman said that legislators, scientists, clergy and ethicists need to discuss cloning before it is regulated.

Kallinger said cloning raises ethical concerns about destroying embryos that are more important than financial impacts on the state's economy.

He said much of the opposition to his bill was based on "misinformation" spread by certain scientists.

There has been a flurry of legislation in Congress and many statehouses across the country following an announcement last November by Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology that it had cloned the first human embryo.

President Bush in August approved federal funds for research using existing embryonic stem cells, but did not allow federal support for either therapeutic or reproductive cloning.