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The BBC's Jonathan Beale
"Those who said this shouldn't happen have lost the day"
 real 56k

Health minister, Lord Hunt
"There are no circumstances under which human cloning could take place in this country."
 real 28k

Archbishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor
"Therapeutic cloning is wrong."
 real 28k

Simon Best, BioIndustry Association
"I am extremely pleased"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 09:43 GMT
UK enters the clone age
An embryonic stem cell Geron
Embryonic stem cells could revolutionise medicine
British scientists are clear to use human embryos to find cures for disease after a landmark vote in the House of Lords.

Peers voted by a majority of 120 to extend the type of research allowed on early-stage embryos, and in so doing opened the way for researchers to practise a limited form of human cloning.

The United Kingdom is now out on a moral limb

Baroness Cox
However, in a concession to peers, ministers have agreed not to issue any licences to allow scientists to carry out such work for nine months.

The move followed fears that the Lords would refuse to back the changes and would delay the introduction of the new regulations for at least a year.

Many peers had been against the measures because of fears it would bring full, reproductive, human cloning - making whole copies of people - one step closer.

Some wanted to delay the introduction of the changes until a Lords committee had examined the issue.

However, after eight hours of debate on Monday, the House agreed to back the new regulations and to set up a committee that would look at the issues in more detail but not delay the research.

Government pledge

The government has pledged to take the committee's recommendations into account when it reports later this year.

The vote has been criticised by many peers including Conservative Baroness Cox.

Debate at the House of Lords BBC
Peers spent eight hours debating the issues
She criticised the government for refusing to wait until the Lords committee had reported before introducing the regulations.

"The United Kingdom is now out on a moral limb," she said. "A momentous decision was taken on an unamendable regulation before parliament was able to be fully informed by a very detailed consideration by a select committee. It is putting the cart before the horse."

But Labour MP and a member of the Commons Science select committee, Ian Gibson said the vote would help to further science in the UK.

"We are right up front in advancing scientific research for the benefits of our people and indeed across the world.

"I think we are at the stage now with science where certainly using embryonic stem cells we can start to ask real questions."

'Morally right'

The vote was also welcomed by Liberal Democrat science spokesman Evan Harris.

"I am personally delighted - and that delight will be shared by patient groups and clinicians - that the Lords have done the morally right thing.

"That is to allow carefully regulated research on stem cells using early embryos to proceed in the search for cures for some terrible diseases."

Scientists developing treatments for a number of diseases have also welcomed the vote.

Dr Austin Smith, from the Genome Research Centre at Edinburgh University, said the decision was good news.

"If the Lords had taken an alternative decision, it would have been a devastating blow, principally for the patients who suffer from diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes for which stem cell research offers hope."

But others have expressed concern.

'A worrying step'

A leading expert on ethics in the field, Dr Tom Shakespeare, said it was a worrying step.

"We are very concerned about using embryos in this way, using them as a means to an end," he said. "There are actually things we can do with adult stem cells, so there are alternatives to this technology.

"There are very many reasons why we are going too fast and should be much more cautious about this development."

Scientists believe that many serious, degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and heart disease, and even spinal cord injuries, could be cured if they can develop new ways to regenerate or replace damaged tissue.

Many believe that the best hope for this comes from using the stem cells present in a growing embryo. These cells have the ability, under the right conditions, to generate virtually all the tissues in the body.

If the stem cells are sourced from an embryo made from the patient's own geneitic material, the new tissues would be a perfect match and would not be rejected by the immune system.

This would allow patients to get on with their lives free from the restrictive drug regimes current transplant patients have to endure.

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See also:

22 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Peers back cloning research
21 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Clerics' cloning plea to Lords
23 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Q&A: Therapeutic human cloning
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