Virtually Alone, Britain Has Legalised Cloning. in Doing So We Have Become the Pariah of the Civilised World

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Byline: DANIEL JOHNSON

THIS week, lawmakers in the U.S. backed President George Bush and approved a sweeping ban on human cloning. In stark contrast, Britain is the first country in the world explicitly to legalise the 'therapeutic' cloning of human embryos - just as we were among the first to legalise abortion.

This momentous step was not even accorded the dignity of an Act of Parliament but was smuggled through as an amendment to a statutory instrument, without proper debate.

And having rammed it through the Commons last December and the Lords in January, Tony Blair was quite indifferent to the dismay it provoked throughout Europe and America.

While the British media took its cue from the Government's pretence that this was a mere clarification of the law, the rest of the world rightly saw this small step for genetics as a giant leap towards the dehumanising of mankind.

Britain was widely accused of excluding herself from European civilisation.

In France, President Chirac immediately assured his countrymen that France would not follow Britain's lead, and called for an international ban on all human cloning. Last month, the French government proposed a ban on human cloning 'for research purposes'.

Reaction in the U.S. was no less vehement. And even the Dutch, who have legalised euthanasia, have no plans to follow Britain's example.

Of course, there were those who approved. Severino Anti-nori, the maverick Italian professor who has promised to clone human babies for infertile couples, was among those who praised to the skies 'Tony Blair's intelligent decision'.

He is correct in supposing that the Prime Minister's advocacy of therapeutic cloning - the use of stem cells derived from an embryo to treat disease - has helped to legitimise reproductive cloning (the creation of identical humans).

Mr Blair, in short, is a bioethical Little Englander. He divorces his Christian beliefs from his actions and subordinates moral imperatives to political or economic ones.

What this appears to mean is that morality must not be permitted to 'inhibit' research; that there are no moral absolutes; and that it is acceptable to treat unborn life as a means to an end.

For Mr Blair, that end is not primarily the ethical one of alleviating human suffering, though even this could not justify the cannibalistic dismemberment of the unborn for the sake of adults.

It is the political and economic one of keeping 'Britain at the forefront of world science'.

The British treat bioethics as a matter of taste. There is an unspoken agreement among senior politicians in this country to exclude anything that smacks of American pro-life versus pro-choice politics.

Though it is among the commonest operations performed by the NHS, abortion is never treated as a normal political issue.

The same fastidiousness applies to abortifacient drugs, such as the 'morning after' pill, which the Government has now made available to teenagers over the counter, without proper warnings about the health risks.

Likewise, the creation of hundreds of thousands of embryos purely for experimentation since the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 has scarcely figured in public consciousness.

There has been no cost-benefit analysis of the scientific case that swayed the Warnock committee in favour of permitting embryo research.

Such an analysis would have revealed there have been few, if any, medical advances as a result of a decade of such experiments, let alone practical benefits for patients.

IVF, the one (heavily qualified) success story, could have been permitted without giving researchers carte-blanche to treat embryos as a disposable means to a dubious end. …