There's something about cloning that brings out the more colorful aspects of American political life. A recent House hearing on the subject featured costumed alien-worshipers and a fringe fertilization expert who argued with academic and biotech industry scientists over the safety and morality of cloning a human. Last week, the Senate Science Committee invited 10 "experts" to discuss cloning, including a member of Congress, an actress, the editor of a conservative news magazine, and four representatives of anti-abortion religious groups. The dough was leavened with one scientist, Rudolf Jaenisch, a professor of biology at MIT and a member of the Whitehead Institute, and frosted with an industry representative, Biotechnology Industry Organization President Carl Feldbaum.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a deeply religious abortion opponent, organized the hearing to discuss legislation that he and Rep. David Weldon (R-Fla.) have introduced that would prohibit human reproductive and therapeutic cloning and could inhibit research on stem cells, fertility and development (see BioCentury Extra, Thursday April 26). Weldon, a physician, argued that "therapeutic cloning" is a misnomer, and in fact any research involving human embryos should be classified as "destructive cloning."