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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"The genetics revolution also has its downsides"
 real 56k

Health Secretary Alan Milburn
"There is going to be no big bang in the NHS when it comes to genetics"
 real 28k

Dr Susan Mayer, Director of Genewatch
"It is excellent that they have announced this ban"
 real 56k

Lord Robert Winston
"Britain is at the forefront of cloning - because of the NHS"
 real 28k

Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Britain to ban human cloning

Britain is to ban reproductive human cloning as part of a strategy to assure the public that genetic technology will be harnessed for beneficial use only.

Conversely, genetic tests for conditions such as cancer are to be made more available. Britain will become the first country in Europe to offer free genetic testing to women with an inherited risk of breast cancer.


There is no other health care system better placed to harness the potential of the great advances now within reach than the NHS

Alan Milburn, Health Secretary
However, ministers have promised action to ensure that the results of genetic tests are not used by insurance companies to discriminate against patients.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced on Thursday that the government is bringing forward legislation to outlaw human cloning within months.

Cloning work is currently restricted to scientists granted licences.

But Mr Milburn said that the only way to ensure human cloning never takes place is to ban reproductive human cloning by law.

The health secretary stressed that while Britain should aim to become a world leader in the genetic revolution in healthcare, no progress can be made unless strict boundaries are set to reassure the public about genetic technology.

Speaking at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle, Mr Milburn said: "Advances in genetics do raise difficult ethical questions.

"The terrible lesson of history is that science can be claimed for evil, as well as for good.

"There are huge potential health gains, but until we address and allay public concerns, we will not gain public consent to realise the full benefits of genetic science."

Genetic screening

Mr Milburn unveiled plans for 30m extra investment in genetic screening.

This will include the introduction of a screening test to identify women who carry the BRCA 2 gene known to be linked to an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Mr Milburn also announced:

  • By 2006 the number of specialist consultants in genetics will double from 77 to 140
  • the number of NHS scientific and technicians working in genetics will rise by 300 over the next five years
  • the number of specialist genetic counsellors working in the NHS will increase by at least 150
  • two new national laboratories for genetics will be set up to specialise in rare genetic disorders and diseases and identify new tests and treatments that can bring benefits to patients
  • NHS genetics services will be reorganised into a single, national network to make sure all NHS patients get the same standard of specialist genetic services, regardless of where they happen to live
A 10m Genetics Knowledge Challenge Fund to establish four "genetics knowledge parks" with medical and scientific expertise will also be set up.

Mr Milburn said: "Genetic advances can be a force for good. But that requires active preparation.

"The genetics revolution has already begun. It is not going to go away. It is time we as a nation started preparing today for the opportunities of tomorrow."

Mr Milburn also argued that the use of genetic tests would lead to savings for the health service.

He said: "There is no other health care system better placed to harness the potential of the great advances now within reach than the NHS."

Cancer expert

Professor Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, welcomed the new cancer screening test, which has been perfected by CRC scientists.

He said: "Breast cancer affects the lives of 35,000 women in the UK each year and kills 13,200 annually.

"This test, which we always hoped would be freely available to women at greater risk of inherited breast cancer, will go some way to addressing this."

National Consumer Council chairman Deirdre Hutton said: "We are pleased that the government is taking a consumer focused view on the use of genetic information by the insurance industry.

"The industry must consult on, and prove the case for, genetic testing.

"The development of a genetic underclass who are uninsurable and socially excluded would be highly undesirable."

Dr Liam Fox, the shadow health secretary, said the Conservatives would establish a National Ethics Committee to tackle issues surrounding gene technology.

He said: "All reasonable people would, I believe, accept that just because we can do something it does not follow we should do it."

Critics of any plans to extend genetic testing say there are too few trained scientists to cope with the sudden increase in demand.

There is also concern that biotech companies will patent emerging gene tests and charge the NHS for each time they are used, leaving the health service with a mounting bill.

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See also:

19 Apr 01 | Health
Gene testing: who benefits?
03 Apr 01 | Health
Genetic test 'moratorium' call
07 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Insurers against genetic test ban
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