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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 14:18 GMT
Cloning row goes back to court
Graphic, BBC
Mr Milburn believes current legislation is adequate
The UK Government has sought to overturn the High Court ruling that disrupted its attempts to regulate human cloning.

Cell nuclear transfer creates an organism which is exactly the same as an embryo

Kenneth Parker QC
Its lawyers went before the Court of Appeal on Wednesday to argue that the creation of embryos using the technique that made the sheep clone Dolly could be controlled under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

The lower court had ruled against the government in November after anti-abortion campaigners highlighted the act's definition of an embryo as the union of an egg cell and a sperm cell; the Dolly technique - cell nuclear transfer (CNR) - does not use sperm to create an embryo.

The Pro-Life Alliance said this meant all cloning experiments in the UK could not be properly licensed and that the legislation covering all embryology research should be reviewed.

Out of date

Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, immediately introduced the Human Reproductive Cloning Bill - rushed through Parliament in December - to outlaw the placing of any embryo in a woman's womb that was not created by a fertilisation process.

He also promised to take the case to the Court of Appeal - which started hearing arguments on Wednesday morning.

Mr Milburn's representative, Kenneth Parker QC, asked the court that an organism created by CNR should be classified as an embryo. The lawyer told the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips, Lord Justice Thorpe and Lord Justice Buxton that such an organism did fall within the meaning of the 1990 Act even if it was not the product of fertilisation.

"CNR creates an organism which is exactly the same as an embryo," he told the judges.

The Pro-Life Alliance wants wholesale revision of embryology law. It agues that science has changed so much since 1990 that the government is duty-bound to re-open the debate on the merits and ethics of fertility and cloning research and should seek to write fresh legislation.

Research parks

The UK's controls on cloning were 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 a more limited form of cloning for therapeutic purposes only, but still restrict research on human embryos to a short period after creation - and then only after a licence has been issued to certify the project is legitimate.

Meanwhile, the health secretary has announced plans for a national network of genetic research parks.

These will be set up in Oxford, Cambridge, London, Manchester and Liverpool combined, Newcastle and Cardiff. Two new National Genetic Reference Laboratories will also be built in Salisbury and Manchester under the multi-million-pound scheme.

Mr Milburn said public confidence in genetics had been dented by BSE and fears of human reproductive cloning, but stressed the National Health Service had to exploit the new, emerging technologies.

"The potential is immense," he said. "While genetics will never mean a disease-free existence, greater understanding of genetics is one of our best allies in the war against cancer."

See also:

29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Human cloning ban 'to become law'
15 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Court backs cloning challenge
15 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Campaigners hail cloning verdict
19 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Move to block human cloning
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