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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 14:35 GMT
Court backs cloning challenge
Researcher working with embryonic stem cells, AP
The campaigners want this research banned
The UK Government said on Thursday it was considering its response to a High Court victory by anti-abortion campaigners seeking to outlaw all forms of human cloning.

There will be many scientists, doctors and patients... who will be disappointed

Simon Fishel
Centre for Assisted Reproduction
The Pro-Life Alliance won a ruling pointing out a loophole in current regulations.

The Department of Health said it might move now to close the loophole, but could also appeal against the verdict.

UK law was intended to ban reproductive cloning - the creation of human babies by cloning - but permit strictly licenced experiments on cloned cells to develop treatments for degenerative diseases.

'Disappointed scientists'

The alliance said that the way the current law was drafted meant it applied only to embryos created by the union of an egg and a sperm, not by cloning techniques.

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 restriction

Bruno Quintavalle
Pro-Life Alliance
The judge's backing for this view leaves the government with a legal headache and means scientists wanting to apply for research licences will have to wait longer.

"I think there will be many scientists and doctors, and patients who have incurable diseases, who will be disappointed because they will see this as a slowdown," said Dr Simon Fishel of the Centre for Assisted Reproduction as Park Hospital in Nottingham.

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

Legitimate project

The campaigner conceded the government would probably 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.

Pro-Life Alliance director Bruno Quintavalle at the High Court in London, PA
Bruno Quintavalle's organisation is delighted with the verdict
"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.

'Loopholes and uncertainties'

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

"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.

Research scientists want to be allowed to remove stem cells from human embryo clones shortly after creation and before they consist of much more than a few dozen cells.

Stem cells are the body's "master cells" - cells that can grow into virtually all other cell types.

Immune response

The hope is that these cells can be controlled to provide replacement tissues that can be used to treatconditions such as Parkinson's disease, motor neurone disease and diabetes.

If the stem cells were cloned from the patient, the treatment would be unlikely to provoke an immune response and make the use of anti-rejection drugs, with their sometimes strong side-effects, unnecessary.

Anti-therapeutic cloning campaigners say that there are alternative routes to gaining the same knowledge.

The Department of Health said on Thursday that it might appeal against the verdict, and that it might also consider introducing emergency legislation to ban human reproductive cloning, something it thought it had already banned.

The BBC's Sophie Hutchinson
"A triumph in court for pro-life campaigners"
Health minister Lord Hunt
"The government is planning to appeal"
Dr Simon Fishel, Centre for Assisted Reproduction
"It might strengthen the future development of this work"
See also:

15 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Campaigners hail cloning verdict
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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