Green light for human cloning tests

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The law on human cloning is to be relaxed to allow scientists to take cells from young embryos and use them to grow skin and other tissue in a move which could help find cures for previously untreatable diseases, the Government said today.

The law on human cloning is to be relaxed to allow scientists to take cells from young embryos and use them to grow skin and other tissue in a move which could help find cures for previously untreatable diseases, the Government said today.

But new legislation will also outlaw the use of human cloning for reproductive purposes, ensuring scientists are banned from "making" a cloned baby.

Ministers were responding to a report by Chief Medical Officer Professor Liam Donaldson on the issue of human embryo cloning.

The relaxation of the current law means that all-purpose "stem cells" can be taken from human embryos under 14 days old so they can be used in medical research.

An essential aspect of this research would involve cloning human cells to make embryos.

Scientists say that stem cell cloning could mean they will be able to harvest healthy tissue and treat people with degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cystic fibrosis.

But religious groups are fiercely opposed to any relaxation of the law, as they believe any embryo is a human life.

The Government has said MPs will be given a free vote on the controversial new law.

Today Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox revealed that he personally intended "on principle" to vote against any relaxation of the rules.

"There is genuine and deep-rooted political unease about many of the medical techniques we can now employ," he said.

At present there is no law expressly forbidding human cloning using the technique which produced Dolly the sheep, because such advances were not envisaged when the legislation was drafted.

In practice the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which licenses research of this kind would never grant permission for reproductive human cloning.

But the Government has decided to slam the lid shut on any possibility of such work taking place.

The new law will make it illegal to produce an embryo clone and plant it into a woman's womb.

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