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Sunday, 25 November, 2001, 22:39 GMT
US looks to outlaw human cloning
Human embryo, BBC
Where will the human embryo clone lead?
The announcement of the first human embryo clone has not been universally welcomed.

The US company responsible, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), says it does not intend to create a human being.

Where does biomedical research lead to in the future? Will we just create test-tube babies everywhere?

Richard Shelby
Republican Senator
Instead, it says it will use cloning as a source of stem cells, which may, one day, be invaluable in the fight against diseases from diabetes and leukaemia to Alzheimer's and Aids.

But the cheer among scientists has been matched by a chill among politicians. President Bush has repeatedly said that human cloning should be made illegal.

His chief bio-ethics advisor has cast doubt on the magic properties of stem cells, and has warned that once human embryo clones are a created, it will be almost impossible to stop some being implanted in a womb and a baby being born.

'Embryo farms'

Heeding that warning, the House of Representatives has already passed a bill outlawing cloning. Only the long queue of counter-terrorist and economic legislation in the Senate has prevented the issue being debated there.

But there is a strong possibility that when it is, cloning will be made illegal.

There are heavyweight lobby groups pressing Senators to get on with the job of banning cloning - and Sunday's announcement from ACT will only make them view the situation with greater urgency.

The Washington DC-based National Right to Life Committee wasted little time on Sunday attacking ACT and its research.

"This corporation is creating human embryos for the sole purpose of killing them and harvesting their cells," said the group's legislative director, Douglas Johnson. "Unless Congress acts quickly, this corporation and others will be opening human embryo farms."

'Gaining allies'

But Dr Norman Fost, director of the bioethics programme at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the work of the ACT scientists was "a basic part of making stem cell research useful for human beings". He said most Americans would favour such science.

And Carl Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, predicted that Congress would ultimately allow human cloning for therapeutic purposes.

"Therapeutic cloning has been gaining allies as its applications are understood," he said.

The debate on cloning in the Senate will be keenly fought. Senator Richard Shelby, a republican from Alabama, said: "I believe it will be perhaps a big debate, but at the end of the day, I don't believe that we're going to let the cloning of human embryos go on."

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"It is not normal fertilisation"
Michael West, Advanced Cell Technology
"We think the future can be quite bright"
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