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Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 11:31 GMT 12:31 UK
Q&A: Why ban human cloning?

As the UK Government announces proposals to introduce legislation to ban human cloning, BBC News Online looks at regulations in place elsewhere in the world.

Q: Who wants to clone a human?

Two groups have recently announced plans to clone humans, despite mounting criticism from religious groups, scientists and politicians. One of these groups believes cloning is an appropriate way to help couples conceive, especially where the father is infertile.

Scientists say cloning techniques are still too underdeveloped to attempt on humans. Experience with animals has shown that most clone pregnancies fail, or result in offspring being delivered stillborn or deformed.

Ian Wilmut, one of the scientists who produced Dolly the Sheep, the first adult mammalian clone, has said that attempts to clone human beings at the current time are "dangerous and irresponsible".

However, despite these concerns, few laws exist to stop anyone wanting to clone a human from doing so. Only four US states, and 12 nations worldwide, have banned human cloning.

Q: Is human cloning banned in the UK?

There is no law that specifically prevents human cloning in the UK. However, all embryo research does require a licence and anyone wanting to make human clones would not be issued with one.

Embryo research in Britain is controlled by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Agency (HFEA), which has made it clear that it would not license the cloning of a human being.

Now, the UK Government intends to bring forward legislation that specifically bans the copying of humans for reproductive purposes.

"There are controls in place here," James Yeandel of the HFEA told BBC News Online. "Further legislation will send a firm message that reproductive cloning will not be tolerated in this country."

Therapeutic cloning is a separate issue. This is a more limited use of the Dolly technology to obtain cells that could yield novel therapies for degenerative diseases.

Q: Are other countries planning similar legislation?

"The picture varies from country to country regarding guidelines and legislation banning human cloning," said James Yeandel.

In Germany, for example, all embryo research is banned. Any attempt to clone a human would therefore be outlawed.

  • Legislation is already in place that would prevent human cloning in Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and most of Europe and Australia.
  • Guidelines are in place in Argentina, Canada, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Singapore and Korea.
In the United States, there is no federal law specifically banning human cloning but some states, such as Michigan, have civil controls.

However, lawmakers in the United States say they are considering giving the government stronger powers to ban human cloning.

A US regulatory authority, the Food and Drug Administration, can currently deny permission for human cloning experiments only on safety grounds. Violators face fines of up to $100,000 (69,390) and a year in prison.

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See also:

09 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Human cloning: The 'terrible odds'
23 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Q&A: Therapeutic human cloning
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