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The BBC's Tom Heap
"The four years since ... Dolly the sheep has given ample time for debate"
 real 56k

Sunday, 21 January, 2001, 05:03 GMT
Clerics' cloning plea to Lords
An embryonic stem cell
Embryonic stem cells could revolutionise medicine
The UK's religious leaders are urging the House of Lords to oppose government plans to extend the legal boundaries of research on human embryos.

On Monday, peers will vote on legislation that would in effect permit the creation of embryonic clones, a move already approved by the Commons.

The leaders of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh faiths have written an open letter to the Lords urging them not to support the change.

"These complex questions deserve to be examined in far greater detail than a brief parliamentary debate on an unamendable order would permit," it says.


These complex questions deserve to be examined in far greater detail

Letter to peers
"We would therefore strongly urge the referral of these matters to a select committee of your Lordships' House where evidence may be weighed in a calm and sober manner."

The motive for embryonic work is the relief of human suffering. Scientists believe many conditions from paralysis to Alzheimer's disease could be cured if they can develop new ways to regenerate or replace damaged tissue.

The best hope for such novel treatments, many scientists believe, comes from stem cells present in a growing embryo. The idea would be to extract these cells, coax them into becoming specific tissues and then give them to a patient.

As their immune system would attack implanted alien cells, the source would have to be the patient's own embryo clone. This would yield perfect-match tissue.

The Sikh faith does not specifically ban embryo research. But respect for life is central and Sikh leaders feel parliament must be given more time to examine the scientists' motives.


The House of Lords is the only chamber in the land that can take on the government

Baroness Blatch
The change in the law is not being put before parliament as a new bill so it will not get as much debate.

Lord Alton has tabled an amendment calling for the issue to be looked at by a select committee.

Conservative Baroness Blatch, who plans to support Lord Alton's amendment, said: "Nobody is disagreeing how important it is, but it should go to a select committee first, who can look at the research and say which is the best way forward.

"The House of Lords is the only chamber in the land that can take on the government and we will give it our best shot."

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See also:

07 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Call for cloning research
30 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Body parts cloning 'to go ahead'
16 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Experts support human cloning
16 Aug 00 | UK Politics
MPs divided on cloning
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