LOS ANGELES - California should end its ban on human cloning so that researchers can realize the disease-fighting potential of growing organs, an advisory committee was told Friday.
The cloning of human cells could bring breakthroughs in the fights against Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, cancer, diabetes, and a host of other illnesses, said Dr. Lawrence Goldstein, a professor in the University of California, San Diego's Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.
Cloning technology is still in its infancy but is rapidly advancing, with some geneticists predicting it may be possible one day to duplicate whole organs or even entire human beings.
Such technology could aid the estimated 50,000 Americans each year who are unable to receive transplants because the demand for organs outstrips supply, Goldstein said.
About 6,000 people died last year while awaiting transplants, he said.
''The people who are in desperate need of transplant technology are not here to defend their interests, but I assure you, there are many of them,'' he said.
California banned replication of humans after the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep in 1997. The moratorium, which expires on Jan. 1, 2003, applies only to cloning of tissue that would result in the replication of an entire human.
The 12-member Advisory Committee on Human Cloning, consisting of ethicists, scientists and legal scholars, was created by the Legislature to advise it on what action to take when the ban expires.
Goldstein, arguing against extending the ban, used the comparison that a century ago, many people opposed vaccinations.
''I don't know what my children or grandchildren will think is ethical,'' Goldstein said.
The ban was based on the mistaken idea that the technology would produce a crop of duplicated human beings, Goldstein and University of Pennsylvania bioethic professor Dr. Glenn McGee told the committee.
''The hullaballoo in the wake of Dolly was really overblown,'' Goldstein said.
''I don't think there are a bunch of people beating down the door saying 'clone me, clone me,''' McGee said after the hearing.
California is one of only three states that currently ban human cloning, McGee said. Michigan and Rhode Island are the others.
He predicted that any state law to restrict human cloning ''will come crashing down in the courts as soon as you have a successful cloning case.''