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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 16:22 GMT
Campaigners hail cloning verdict
Human embryonic stem cell
Scientists want to examine human embryonic stem cells
Campaigners trying to reverse UK Government policy on experiments on cells from human embryo clones are delighted with a High Court verdict that went their way on Thursday.

"The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 is now in tatters," said Bruno Quintavalle, director of the Pro-Life Alliance.

But some scientists are worried that the verdict will further delay the process of granting licences for research on the cells, which, they hope, could lead to treatments for conditions like Parkinson's and motor neurone disease.

"It is very disappointing that it might create quite a considerable time between getting the research done and sorting out the law on this," said Dr Simon Fishel, of the Centre for Assisted Reproduction at Park Hospital, Nottingham.

'Links with industry'

The Pro-Life Alliance accused the government of "gross incompetence".

"The government has deliberately sought to avoid parliamentary debate in this highly controversial field and has been determined to keep from public scrutiny the close links that New Labour has with the biotechnology industry," it said on Thursday.

Professor Jack Scarisbrick, chairman of anti-abortion group Life, said "The government... has a lot of explaining to do. They categorically assured MPs and peers that cell nuclear Replacement (CNR), the technique used in cloning of all kinds - whether 'therapeutic' or 'full birth' cloning - could be licensed by the HFE Authority and would therefore be lawful.

"They said this despite repeated warnings that this was not so.

"Life calls upon the government, as a matter of urgency, to introduce a bill to outlaw all cell nuclear replacement, for whatever purpose, and to encourage research using stem cells taken from adults, which offers much better prospects for conquering diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, etc.

"It was never necessary to go down the cloning road," he said.

Medical concern

The British Medical Association says it is extremely concerned by the court's judgement:

"Ironically, this 'victory' for the Pro-Life Alliance means that there currently exists no legal prohibition to human cloning.

"The BMA considers this situation to be totally unacceptable and shares public opinion that embryo research must be controlled.

"It is extremely important to remember that it was the clear intention of Parliament that research using CNR embryos should be permitted with the strict controls set out in the HFE Act of 1990.

"This was because embryonic stem cell research offers huge potential to patients suffering very debilitating diseases," the association said.

'Scientists will wait'

Sir Brian Heap, vice-president of the Royal Society, the UK's academy of science, said:

"As we have stated previously, the Royal Society believes that the government should ensure that the law explicitly prohibits human reproductive cloning in the UK.

"Both Houses of Parliament have signalled their approval for the principle of allowing licensed research into embryonic stem cells using cell nuclear replacement. This should be respected by any proposed new legislation.

"We do not believe that any scientists based in the UK who have the know-how would use, or support other scientists to use, cloning technology to produce human embryos in the UK for any purposes, until the legal situation here has been clarified."

See also:

15 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Court backs cloning challenge
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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