Cloning of babies will be banned

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The Independent Online

The Government is preparing legislation to ban the cloning of babies. Scientists will, for the first time, be able to grow skin and organ tissue from special cells taken from human embryos, but to allay fears that technology could be abused there will be an explicit ban on "reproductive cloning".

The Government is preparing legislation to ban the cloning of babies. Scientists will, for the first time, be able to grow skin and organ tissue from special cells taken from human embryos, but to allay fears that technology could be abused there will be an explicit ban on "reproductive cloning".

This means that infertile couples will not be able to exploit research to "grow a baby". There will be no human equivalent of "Dolly the sheep" - the first mammal successfully cloned from an adult cell.

A report recommending the relaxation of the law on "stem" cell research carried out by the chief medical officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, is expected on Wednesday and will be endorsed by ministers. Whitehall sources said legislation would be brought in "as soon as Parliamentary time allows".

"We are not talking about Dolly-type technology. It is not about growing a new hand or heart. It is about encouraging new tissue to grow for therapeutic purposes," the source said. "There will be new primary legislation to ban reproductive cloning. Although we are using embryos there is absolutely no question that reproductive cloning will be banned."

The permitted research will allow all-purpose "stem" cells - cells which haven't yet "decided" what to be - to be harvested from early stage embryos to create replacement human tissue. Eventually, it is hoped, such cells could be extracted from the blood of adult humans. Experts believe that when that technology is perfected, operations could be carried out without the patient having a blood transfusion.

If successful, the research will revolutionise the treatment of burns, spinal injuries, cancers, Alzheimer's, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Christine Young, of the Special Parkinson's Research Interest Group, whose husband, Philip, is a sufferer, said: "If we all lived long enough we would all get Parkinson's. As we live longer, more people will get it. It is for that reason that it is absolutely crucial that this research goes ahead. It is a vital link in the chain." She is now certain there will be a cure. "The same principle applies as putting a man on the moon. We say we are going to do it and work backwards from there."

The research, which is currently banned in federally funded centres in the United States, is also backed by the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, the campaign organisation set up by the Superman actor, who was paralysed in a horse-riding accident.

Stem cell research has previously only been allowed to be used for research into gene-related diseases. The extension of the regulations to include congenital disease research has prompted deep concerns among pro-life campaigners and the church.

The Government has been accused of allowing scientists to "play God" and many feared that the ability to clone human tissue could be abused. Critics have branded it "Frankenstein technology".

Last night a spokesman for the Catholic Church said the safeguards did not meet its concerns about the cloning of human embryos, even for merely therapeutic ends.

"We would still object to any research which involves the overproduction and then the destruction of human embryos," he said. "We still hope that if therapeutic cloning is going to go ahead that other ways can be found. Research ought to go down another line which doesn't make the cloning morally unacceptable to large parts of the community."

The Government is also likely to face criticism from the Conservatives who say the decision to allow the use of human embryos for "therapeutic cloning" had been taken without all the evidence being properly examined - and is to be announced during Parliament's summer recess.

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