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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 23:31 GMT
Lords back cloning research
Clone, ACT
Peers considered moral issues raised by cloning
Scientists in the UK have been given the go-ahead to create human embryo clones under strictly controlled conditions.

A House of Lords select committee set up last year to examine claims that making the clones was unnecessary has decided that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) can issue research licences.

Supporters of the research believe it is necessary to find ways of regenerating tissues such as nerves, muscle and cartilage to treat the elderly and disabled. But anti-abortion campaigners believe equally effective treatments could be developed using adult cells.

The HFEA, the body that regulates embryology research in Britain, is likely to issue licences to begin experimenting with human embryonic material almost immediately.

Court challenge

The decision was welcomed by paralysed actor Christopher Reeve, who last week told the BBC he would come to the UK for treatment if it was developed in Britain.

The star of the film Superman, who was paralysed from the neck down in a 1995 riding accident, said: "I applaud the House of Lords' select committee decision.

"While politically complicated, the medical, moral and scientific case for this decision is overwhelming".

The UK's controls on cloning under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act were designed to place barriers in the way of anyone wanting to produce a child copy of a human being.

Last year, the government passed a law that allowed scientists to produce human embryo clones solely for the purpose of making replacement tissues that could be used in transplant procedures.

The changes were designed to limit the research on the embryos to a short period after creation - and then only by scientists with a licence.

The "Pro-life" lobby then secured a High Court ruling that highlighted an apparent legal loophole and derailed the legislation - but the decision was successfully challenged by the government at the Court of Appeal last month.


The Rt Rev Richard Harries, the Bishop of Oxford and chairman of the Committee, said: "Research on early human embryos raises difficult moral and scientific issues, on which there are strong and sincerely held views.

"After looking at all the issues very carefully, the Committee was not persuaded that it would be right to prohibit all research on early embryos, which has been permitted since 1990 and regulated effectively by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority since then."

But Pro-life groups criticised the Lords' work. Peter Garrett, director of research at the charity Life, said: "This Committee is a put-up job. It is part of a larger effort to con the public into believing that therapeutic cloning is not cloning.

"The whole exercise has been a cosmetic one from start to finish."

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Anti-abortion groups remain horrified by the prospect"
Robert Terry, Wellcome Trust
"There may be some treatments in three to five years"
Anne Scanlon, Life
"The entire committee was made up of people who were pro-cloning"
House of Lords Committee member Baroness O'Neill
"This sort of research is cutting edge"
See also:

27 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Researchers welcome cloning decision
18 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Court approves cloning challenge
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Human cloning ban 'to become law'
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