But as CBS's Richard Roth reports, many are offended, on religious and ethical grounds, by the very idea of artificially duplicating human beings.
Almost 5 years after cloning produced a sheep named Dolly, British scientists have a green light to take the biological breakthrough a giant step further and create an embryo by cloning human cells.
Approval Despite Opposition
Despite opposition from leaders of every major religious group, approval for the cutting-edge science came in the tradition-bound House of Lords.
"Your vote, my lords, depends on whether some people might get a treatment that might save them from disease or, even worse, death," said Lord Robert Winston.
For medical research, the law will permit limited cloning of human embryos, which must be destroyed within 14 days--at the earliest stage of development.
Promising experiments on diseases including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and cancer are already underway using tissue from embryos created at infertility clinics that was not used to create a pregnancy.
Embryonic cloning, scientists say, could produce tissue that's a perfect match for the patient. But Britain's now the only country to legalize it.
"We can manage the science for human benefit but if we bottle it up out of a fear of the unknown or some sectarian debate over abortion we will do ourselves a great harm," says Dan Curry of the US Alliance for Aging Research.
The British government tonight insists it's no closer to permitting full human cloning. It says the aim of the new law is not to create human life in the laboratory but rather to save people whose lives are already at risk.
©MMII CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed