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In cloning debate, a compromise

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While the United States debates whether marriage is limited to one man and one woman, a presidential panel has waded into an equally controversial area with a reasonable-sounding proposal.

Procreation should be limited the same way: to a sperm and an egg.

By spelling it out in a report last week, the President's Council on Bioethics has offered liberals and conservatives a potential way out in their contentious debate over human cloning and research.

Its ban on reproductive cloning would appease religious conservatives somewhat. But by not extending the ban to include cloning research, the proposal could also win over scientists and other supporters of medical research. The recommendation from the panel, appointed by President Bush, who opposes all forms of human cloning, comes as a surprise to many.

"One can say, at the very least, that [council members have made] a distinction between two types of cloning," says Dr. Laurie Zoloth, professor of medical humanities and bioethics and religion at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. "And that's a positive element of this report - that one type [of cloning] should be banned now and that one type shouldn't."

That separation represents something of a milestone. For years, cloning has pitted religious conservatives against medical researchers. Conservatives view all human embryos as life and, thus, oppose research that destroys them. Medical researchers, on the other hand, see the stem cells that embryos provide as promising avenues to cure some of humanity's most intractable diseases.

That debate has stalled a political solution. Measures to ban cloning for the purpose of human reproduction have passed the US House but remain bottled up in the Senate. In many respects, the deadlock resembles the political stalemate over in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

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