Government lawyers and lawmakers were making determined efforts
this week to close a legal loophole that effectively permits human
cloning in Britain.
It follows a High Court ruling Nov. 15 that Britain has no laws
governing the reproduction of human embryos using cloning
technology, despite a 1990 act on embryology that had been touted
here as a global first.
Fearful that unethical doctors could exploit the situation to
carry out human-cloning research in Britain, the government has
launched an appeal against the ruling. And yesterday, it was to
introduce a bill into the House of Lords, Britain's senior
legislative body, to explicitly ban the practice.
Under the 1990 act, embryos could be destroyed and created for
some types of medical research. Last January, the act was extended
to take into account scientific advances, stem-cell experiments in
particular. It was specifically worded to allow cloning to create
embryos for stem-cell research. Parliament and scientists believed
that cloning embryos to reproduce a child remained illegal under the
But the ProLife Alliance, which opposes all forms of cloning,
successfully exposed a loophole in the law, claiming it didn't
really ban cloning.
The confusion over the law has created a dilemma for the
scientific community: how to continue research on embryo cells while
banning cloning for reproductive purposes. The first one is vital to
find cures for degenerative diseases, scientists claim, while the
latter is ethically objectionable.
For them, the efforts taken by the government represent the first
serious attempt to clarify the separation between the two different
types of research here in Europe and in the US.
In America, there is no federal law banning human cloning,
according to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority
(HFEA), an agency that licenses and monitors all human embryo
research in Britain.
In Europe, there is a "mixed picture," says HFEA spokesman James
Yeandel. "In Germany, all forms of embryonic research are
prohibited. In France, embryonic research is theoretically permitted
if it "benefits" the embryo. But that, in effect, is a ban.
Despite the legal loophole in Britain, Mr. Yeandel says the
authority remains "proud" of the legislation in Britain. "We were
the first in the world to introduce laws governing the creation of
embryos outside the body [in 1990] and we are the first organization
of its kind in the world."
He adds that unlike Europe, Britain is taking steps to clarify
"Britain is ahead of Europe in terms of what you can do here,"
says Ian Gibson, a member of the ruling Labour Party government.
"You can't do therapeutic cloning [stem-cell research] in Europe. …