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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

Niall Dickson reports: "The government has banned this research for now"
Leading scientists and doctors have attacked the UK Government's decision not to lift the current ban on human cloning as immoral and said it should be allowed in limited form for research purposes.

Ministers put off a decision on whether to allow human cloning because of public concern.

Simon Best, Managing Director of Geron Biomed, experts in cloning technology: "We're disappointed"
They proposed instead setting up a new advisory group to investigate the therapeutic aspects of limited human cloning under the auspices of the chief medical officer.

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.

[ image: Professor Winston:
Professor Winston: "People may die unecessarily"
"I think that there is a risk that by delaying this research people in this country will die unecessarily. So in my view this is an immoral decision," he said.

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.

Baroness O'Neill from the Human Genetics Advisory Commission: "The science is still extremely unclear"
"We're quite disappointed that the government is not willing to endorse the recommendation to allow cloning for 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."

Dr Patrick Dixon, prominent critic of genetic research: Permission would have given the green light to whole-body cloning
While organisations like the BMA and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority support limited cell cloning for therapeutic purposes using embryos up to 14 days old but remains "resolutely opposed" to the cloning of whole humans.

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."

Food scares

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.

[ image: Pro-lifers oppose all cloning]
Pro-lifers oppose all cloning
"The government is on the run following the collapse of public confidence in GM 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.

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Liam Donaldson: "I will chair an independent advisory group"
"I suspect there will be people who say that even this is going too far and we should not even be considering research of this kind. Someone has got to take the ethical decision of saying we either do it or we don't."

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."

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Internet Links

Society, Religion and Technology Project - Church of Scotland

Human Genetics Advisory Commission

Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

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The Clone Zone - New Scientist

Geron Corporation

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