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CNN SATURDAY

Interview With Alta Charo

Aired December 28, 2002 - 17:39   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The White House today reiterated its support for legislation to ban human cloning. Some say what Clonaid claims to have pulled off is already illegal as well an unethical.
Alta Charo is associate dean at the University of Wisconsin Law School and teaches bioethics at the university's medical school. She joins us from Madison, good to see you again.

ALTA CHARO, BIOETHICIST: Thank you, good to be here.

WHITFIELD: All right, well more specifically the White House, in fact, released this very statement that I'll read. "The president believes like most Americans human cloning is deeply concerning and he strongly supports legislation banning human cloning."

There is no legislation on the books outlawing human cloning in the U.S. but the FDA, it's supposed to police or would oversee any such experiments. Do you see that it now is nearly just a year or maybe even months away from having legislation on the books, this being the impetus now?

CHARO: No, I don't.

WHITFIELD: Why not?

CHARO: Because we could have had this legislation in 1997 and 1998 after Dolly, and we could have had it in 2001 and 2002, but each time a bill was proposed to ban reproductive cloning it was blocked by people who added amendments that would also ban some or all forms of embryo research. The latest forms being embryo research that use certain cloning techniques but have absolutely no reproductive outcomes.

Indeed, President Bush threw his support behind a bill that combined prohibitions on reproductive cloning with prohibitions on embryo research and that's precisely why the U.S. Senate deadlocked and no legislation ever emerged.

WHITFIELD: So if perhaps it wasn't taken seriously before, don't you think this is an alarming enough example, this announcement, even though there still is no verification that perhaps this is a topic that might be taken more seriously in the legislature now?

CHARO: I would like to think so. I would like to think that members of Congress would find it sensible to separate the debates between reproductive cloning, which is clearly risky and inappropriate and unethical in human species at this time, from research that uses cloning techniques to simply work at the cellular level and try to find an understanding of genetic disease.

But this has been a political football. The cloning issue, no matter how alarming, whether after Dolly or in more recent years, has been a vehicle for a separate agenda having to do with embryo research and by extension abortion politics. It will be very difficult, I think, for the U.S. Congress to disentangle itself but I certainly hope it can.

WHITFIELD: The Clonaid CEO and lead chemist Brigitte Boisselier said as early as this morning they still have not taken any samples from this baby that they claim to be a clone of the 31-year-old mother. No lab samples have been taken by independent groups as of yet, even one day after this public announcement. Does that continue to raise suspicion for you?

CHARO: It adds to a very healthy dose of existing suspicion on my part. I must say I've always been in the skeptics' camp. I find Brigitte Boisselier's technical credentials to be lacking, the track record of her group to be non-existent, and the nature of her claims to be rather outlandish.

I've also had the privilege of watching her attempt to answer basic questions from very reputable scientists during a National Academy's meeting and she proved herself to be ignorant of basic embryology as well as of certain key tests that can or can not be done at certain stages of development.

WHITFIELD: She also...

CHARO: I find her entirely un-credible.

WHITFIELD: She also announced that there just might be at least four other births that would take place in the near future that would follow the footsteps of this birth that they claim took place.

CHARO: She can announce anything she wants. Until it's been proven, it is nothing but an announcement from somebody who simply doesn't have a record that suggests she's a credible witness without some kind of independent proof.

WHITFIELD: All right, Alta Charo thank you very much for joining us from Madison, Wisconsin.

CHARO: You're very welcome.

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