Britain Bans Human Embryo Cloning
Associated Press Writer
10:58 AM EDT; June 24, 1999; London, UK (AP) - The British Government rejected expert advice and banned the cloning of human embryos Thursday for any kind of medical research, saying more time is needed to consider the implications. The decision, announced in Parliament after months of deliberations, came as a surprise. The move meant embryos may no longer be cloned for infertility and congenital disease research. The government had been expected to follow a recommendation by its advisors that Britain should allow continued research into the cloning of human embryos - provided they were destroyed after a maximum of 14 days - for the treatment of disease, while maintaining a ban on cloning to create babies. In the United States, publicly-funded embryo research is banned; in Germany and France, it is not allowed at all.
The company that funded Dolly, the sheep whose 1996 birth marked the first cloning of a mammal from an adult cell, said Britain would fall behind in a key field. "This work has the potential to provide completely new treatments for a wide range of diseases for which no remedy exists at present," said Simon Best, Managing Director of Geron Bio-Med, owners of Scotland's Roslin Institute. "It's a whole new market which could benefit the economy, and an area in which we are very smart at the moment," he added.
British authorities have long banned cloning aimed at developing replacement tissue, as is done in the United States. Public Health Minister Tessa Jowell said human reproductive cloning "is ethically unacceptable and cannot take place in this country." "However, we recognize that regulations to allow therapeutic research should be very carefully considered," she told Parliament. The government advisory body, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, had recommended permitting cloning for therapeutic research, saying that U.S. experiments in growing "master" cells of human tissues from an embryo have a huge potential for medical treatment.
Researchers hope the U.S. technique, by which any type of adult cell could theoretically be made, could lead to the creation of heart, kidney, or other tissue to replace diseased parts of the body. On the other hand, the technique theoretically could be used to clone a human being. Jowell said more evidence was required "of the need for such research, its potential benefits and risks, and ... account should be taken of all alternative approaches that might achieve the same ends.''
The government ordered its Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Liam Donaldson, to set up an independent group of experts to examine the issue, consult scientists internationally, and to report back early next year.
The Los Angeles Times; p. A18 (June 25, 1999).