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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 10:37 GMT
Campaigners win cloning challenge
Researcher working with embryonic stem cells, AP
The campaigners want this research banned
Anti-abortion campaigners heard on Thursday that their High Court challenge to UK regulations on cloning had been successful, but that the government had been given leave to appeal.

The court victory will reopen the debate on how to regulate the scientific and medical use of human embryos and may force parliament to look again at the law.

The campaign group opposes any form of human cloning, including therapeutic cloning to harvest stem cells, which scientists say could potentially be used to treat degenerative diseases.

The diseases we're thinking about are really diseases for which there is no cure

Peter Andrews
Sheffield University
But their challenge was a technicality, in effect a charge that the current law had been badly drafted.

"As Mr Justice Crane today stated there is simply no law governing cloned embryos," said Bruno Quintavalle, director Pro-Life Alliance.

The campaigner conceded the government would legislate to close the loophole. However, he said: "What's clear from the judgment is that it's not just simply a matter of tinkering with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act; wholesale revision will ultimately be needed.

"Science has moved on - all sorts of technologies now exist that weren't dreamt about in 1990, and wholesale revision of the embryology law is now desperately needed."

The UK's controls on cloning are designed to place barriers in the way of anyone wanting to produce a child copy of a human being.

They were altered in 2001 to allow therapeutic cloning, but still aim to restrict the removal of cells from human embryos to a short period after creation - and then only after a licence has been issued to certify the project is legitimate.

The Pro-Life Alliance's challenge had already led to a suspension of the licensing process.

'Loopholes and uncertainties'

It won its argument that the law on cloning was flawed because it derived from changes made to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990.

Human embryo, AP
Days after conception, a human embryo consists of just a few cells
The court backed its view that the 1990 act applied only to embryos created from an egg and a sperm. Cloning bypasses the need to fertilise an embryo with a sperm, using other cells instead.

Current law, the court agreed, does not therefore control cloning at all.

"The law as it stands at the moment is so full of loopholes and uncertainties that scientists could go right ahead and clone human embryos without any restrictions and without any possible sanction from the government," Mr Quintavalle told the BBC.

'Master cells'

Professor Peter Andrews of Sheffield University works with stem cells - "master cells" that can develop into nearly all other cell types - from human embryos and says they may ultimately lead to treatments for a range of diseases.

"The diseases we're thinking about are really diseases for which there is no cure," he told the BBC.

Potential targets, he said, included Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease and diabetes.

The UK Government will have to re-examine the therapeutic cloning issue and the bill may have to go through parliament again.

The BBC's Sue Nelson
"It means there is a legal loophole"
Bruno Quintavalle, Pro-Life Alliance
"Revision of the embryology law is now desperately needed"
See also:

06 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Cloning doctor to make UK bid
25 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Clone pregnancy 'this year'
06 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Warning over dangers of cloning
23 Jan 01 | UK Politics
UK enters the clone age
19 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
MPs vote to extend embryo research
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