MPs urge law to ban human clones

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Cloning of human beings should be outlawed by the next parliament, according to an all-party Select Committee report rushed out ahead of the general election. However, in a report published yesterday, the Science and Technology Select Committee warned against hindering cloning research in animals, which may benefit agriculture and human and animal medicine.

The members also castigated the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff) for dropping its funding of the team of Scottish scientists who last month amazed the world by announcing they had created a lamb, Dolly, from cells taken from an adult lamb.

The Committee called for a parliamentary inquiry into the way Maff commissions and uses research and scientific advice. It said Maff should bear the costs of any redundancies that follow at the Roslin Institute, near Edinburgh, where the work was carried out.

Human cloning appears to be banned under the 1991 legislation, which created the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. But the HFEA said last night that a definitive legal opinion is not yet available, although it should be by the time Parliament reassembles.

The loophole arises because the 1991 Act governs the use of gametes, the sperm and egg, and embryos. But the cloning technique used by Roslin did not involve creating an embryo. Cells were placed in a chemical bath and their internal clock run backwards so they acted as if they were still at the embryonic stage. They were then implanted into a ewe.

The Select Committee rushed out its report after hearing evidence earlier this month from scientists at Roslin and experts from the HFEA.

The members did not agree to calls by the HFEA to leave open the possibility of using human cloning to solve genetic defects, suggesting that could be handled by the use of cloning techniques in animals. "If you needed to produce human tissue say, for a skin graft, we haven't excluded that," said Dr Jeremy Bray, a committee member. "You could clone human cells in a transgenic animal. But we have said no to the cloning of complete humans."

The birth of Dolly was the first time anyone had produced a clone from an adult animal, and it raised the frightening possibility of cloning humans. The committee commented that "the science is astonishing and its implications profound" and that "in Roslin, we have a research team that has produced a result described as `the most important development in United Kingdom science since the splitting of the atom.'"

They concluded: "It is not satisfactory for issues as momentous as this to be left until they are decided through test cases. Anyone attempting cloning without the HFEA's approval should face criminal charges."

But they added that there areas where the research at Roslin could produce benefits both for medicine and for agriculture. The Cloning of Animals from Adult Cells, HC 373-I