Britain Moves To Ban Human Cloning

Cloning graphic. Clones, genetic engineering.
The government will propose legislation to ban human reproduction by cloning, Health Secretary Alan Milburn said Thursday.

Milburn said he wanted to lay to rest the "twin spectres" of human cloning and the emergence of a "genetic underclass" by introducing the ban.

Parliament earlier this year approved the cloning of human cells for stem-cell research — so-called "therapeutic cloning" — but those regulations forbid allowing the cloned cells to survive longer than 14 days.

Reproductive cloning is currently banned by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, but its policy could be overturned at any time and a license issued.

"I believe we need to go further to offer an unequivocal assurance to the public," Milburn said in a speech to the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle upon Tyne in northern England.

"Human cloning should be banned by law, not just by license," he said. "I can confirm today then that the government will legislate in the near future to explicitly ban human reproductive cloning in the U.K."

Milburn did not say when the legislation would be introduced.

Health officials said Britain was the first country in the world to propose such laws, which came in reaction to public perceptions that reproductive cloning may be akin to the creation of Frankenstein's monster.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is believed to be leaning toward calling a national election in June, so cloning legislation presumably would have to wait until — and if — the government wins a second term.

Scientists concerned at the risks involved in human reproductive cloning welcomed the ban.

Click here for more on how human cloning might work, and other hot topics in the world of genetics.

"I've heard the suggestion that it might be used to replace a precious child lost in a road accident, which rather fills me with horror," said Professor Richard Gardner, chair of the Royal Society working group on stem cell and therapeutic cloning. "My direct concern would be the low efficiency in animal studies and the very high rate of abnormal development."

But groups opposed to cloning dismissed it as "pure political spin" aimed at pleasing voters ahead of the election.

LIFE, a leading anti-abortion rights charity, says that "therapeutic cloning" effectively creates human beings and then kills them.

"Far from becoming the first country to ban human cloning, we have become the first to legalize it for the purposes of destructive research procedures," the group said.

Stem cells are the un-programmed master cells found in early-stage embryos that can turn into nearly every cell type in the body.

Scientists hope that by extracting the stem cells from the embryo when it is three or four days old, their growth can be directed i a lab to become any desired cell or tissue type for transplant.

Milburn also confirmed that the government would introduce a moratorium on the use of genetic tests by insurance firms should the Human Genetics Commission recommend it.

But Milburn said that despite a need for strict boundaries protected by law, Britain should aim to become a world leader in the genetic revolution in health care.

He outlined the potential benefits of genetic research in helping to diagnose patients early and increase the use of preventive medicine.

"The genetics revolution has already begun. It is not going to go away," Milburn said.

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