UK Bans Human [Reproductive] Cloning

December 4, 2001; London, UK (AP) -- Scientists in the United Kingdom have been banned from using cloning techniques to produce babies. The Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 was rushed through Parliament after a High Court decision that the government had no control over the use of embryos created by cloning.

Just two weeks ago U.S. scientists announced they had successfully created human embryos through cloning -- a potential step on the way to producing a cloned person. But the technology could also be used to develop new treatments for a range of killer and debilitating diseases so has sparked an ethical debate on its future use and what restrictions, if any, are necessary. The UK law, which came into being on Tuesday, prohibits the planting of cloned embryos in a womb. Previously, only those produced by fertilization were covered by existing legislation, the High Court ruling said.

In cloning, scientists mechanically replace the nucleus of an egg with DNA from another cell. The reconstructed egg is then treated to make it divide and grow into an embryo. The law does not prohibit cloning altogether, only the implanting of embryos in a womb. Scientists will still be allowed to use cloning to create embryos for stem-cell research.

Stem cells are the master cells found in embryos that give rise to all other cells in the body. Doctors hope they will be able to cure or treat hundreds of diseases by directing stem cells to develop into tissue needed for transplants.