Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 20:07 GMT 21:07 UK
Human cloning ban condemned
Doctors fear research into diseases will be held back
Ministers put off a decision on whether to allow human cloning because of public concern.
But Professor Robert Winston, a leading fertility expert and Labour peer, told the BBC the delay would impinge on research for incurable diseases like Parkinson's disease, cancer and burns.
His views were echoed by the British Medical Association, which represents UK doctors.
The BMA said it would be recommending that limited cell cloning should be allowed with strict safeguards similar to existing controls on other research using human embryos.
It suggested approval for research would only be granted to projects which could not be carried out in any other ways.
UK 'left behind'
Dr Simon Best, Managing Director of Geron Biomed, the commercial arm of the Roslin Institute which cloned Dolly the sheep, said the UK could now be left behind in the race to exploit stem cell research.
"This work has the potential to provide completely new treatments for a wide range of diseases for which no remedy exists at present."
But anti-abortion campaigners said no form of human cloning should be permitted
"If they had gone ahead today, they would have said yes to sick patients deliberately constructing tiny twin and triplet replicas of themselves," said Peter Garrett, research director of Life.
"Then those twin and triplet replicas would have been killed to provide tissue for transplantation."
Dr Patrick Dixon, author of The Genetics Revolution, who is also opposed to human cloning, said the government's decision was influenced by concerns over genetically-modified food.
"The biggest nightmare for Tony Blair would be a maverick scientist going public with a cloned baby in two years' time, and announcing that he'd learned the technique from a British research group."
But Professor David Latchman, vice-chairman of the Parkinson's Disease Society's medical advisory panel, accused ministers of being over-cautious and unduly influenced by the media.
He added: "There are huge numbers of very desperate people out there."
The Conservative Party said the government decision was a sign of weakness.
Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said Labour had shown itself incapable of making a decision over the issue, preferring to hand the responsibility over to scientific advisers.
"We elect governments to govern us, not scientists, and it is therefore the job of government to have the courage to take difficult decisions," he said, "but which this Labour Government seems incapable of grasping."