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Tuesday, December 8, 1998 Published at 23:00 GMT


Sci/Tech

Proposal to clone human embryos attacked

Human embryos could provide spare tissues

Strong criticism has followed the recommendation that the cloning of early-stage human embryos should be allowed for medical research. The chief concerns are that it would open the door to human cloning and create living, "spare-part" factories.


Dr Patrick Dixon: The first step towards full human cloning
"This is the perfect Christmas present for those who want to press ahead with human cloning," said Dr Patrick Dixon, whose book Futurewise warns of the dangers of unrestrained research.

"They will be able to use British technology to steam ahead towards the day when human clones become a reality."


[ image: Dr Patrick Dixon:
Dr Patrick Dixon: "A christmas present for those who want cloning"
He pointed out that once it was possible to clone human embryos it would be a simple matter to produce fully-formed human clones by implanting the embryo in a woman's womb. Human cloning is morally suspect, he believes.

"There are huge emotional consequences for the child: your father could be your brother, your mother would be your sister-in-law."

Dr Dixon called for an internationally agreed worldwide moratorium on such research while the implications and risks are properly assessed. However, the chairman of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission, which made the recommendation in a joint report with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), is adamant that human cloning will not happen.

Sir Colin Campbell told the BBC: "We do not want human reproductive cloning, Parliament doesn't want it, and as a result of our consultation exercise we have established that 80% of the public don't want it - it's not going to happen."


[ image: HGAC chairman:
HGAC chairman: "Cloning is not going to happen"
The use of human embryos as "spare-part" factories was a worry for church members, said Dr Donald Bruce, director of the Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology Project. "It raises the ethical question of should we create a cloned embryo which would then have to be killed."

Dr John MacLean, an embryologist convening the working party on cloning for the Catholic Bishop's Committee on Bioethics, agrees, believing all embryo research is indefensible. "It's a human subject, whose life is as worthy of respect as any other human subject. In any research which respects the ethics of medicine, the life and wellbeing of the human subject must not be sacrificed"


Sir Colin Campbell and Dr John McLean debate the issues
He also argued that it was dangerous to presume that medical benefits would result, given what he believes is the lack of success since embryo research was allowed in 1990.

"Molecular biology, the use of transgenic animals and tissue culture offer far more effective methods of addressing the medical problems." Other European and Scandinavian countries have banned embryo research, he noted.

Licensed research

Sir Colin Campbell firmly rejects these criticisms, saying that the idea of using embryos for human spare parts is morally repugnant. "We will not allow it. But we should do research that may help us tackle human disease. For example, it might be possible to culture cells for skin to treat a terrible burn."


BBC Science reporter Pallab Ghosh reports
Sir Colin also believes that only research likely to bring benefits will be licensed. "Embryo research is permitted up to 14 days only if the regulatory authority thinks it will help to tackle a congenital disease, increase knowledge about miscarriage or improve contraception."

He claims the consultation has been wide "We have many religions, cultures and ideologies in our society and my commission's purpose is to consult the public and report to Parliament, so we can decide as a society where to draw the boundaries."

He received support from scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, responsible for Dolly the sheep. "We are pleased the report recognises there are applications of cloning in human medicine that have great potential to benefit mankind," said assistant director Harry Griffin.

But the belief by many church and pro-life groups that it is unacceptable to create even non-cloned embryos destined for termination means the arguments are certain to continue.



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Internet Links


Church of Scotland SRT Project

Human Genetics Advisory Commission

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

The Council for Responsible Genetics

Linacre Centre For Health Care Ethics


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