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Britain’s approval of embryo cloning opens ‘Pandora’s box,’ bioethicist says

WASHINGTON (BP)–The British Parliament’s decision to sanction the cloning of human embryos for research purposes not only requires the destruction of human lives but opens a “Pandora’s biotechnological box,” a Southern Baptist bioethics specialist said.

Britain’s House of Lords voted decisively Jan. 22 in favor of government regulations that allow researchers to clone human embryos, take stem cells from them and then destroy them at 14 days of development, according to reports by CNSNews.com and the Associated Press. The rules do not allow for implantation of the embryo in a womb for development and birth. The House of Commons had approved the same rules in December.

The action makes Great Britain the first country to legalize the cloning of human embryos.

“Not only is the cloning of a human being morally wrong, but because human embryos must be destroyed by the time they reach 14 days old, according to the policy, the British government has made the killing of those embryos mandatory by law,” said Ben Mitchell, a consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This policy is utterly reprehensible.

“The House of Lords had a clear choice before it, and it chose the moral low ground.”

The chamber rejected an amendment that would have delayed implementation of the rules until a special committee could discuss the ethical issues involved, according to the news reports.

The action “does not bode well at all,” said Mitchell, associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill. “Doubtless, other countries will follow suit. Human beings will be used as means to accomplish someone else’s research ends. This is immoral and should not be countenanced by any nation with a moral conscience.”

Stem cells are primitive cells from which a wide variety of tissue in the human body develops. Their isolation for the first time in late 1998 provided hope for producing cells and tissues to use as replacements in treating a variety of conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and diabetes. Such stem cell research, however, requires the destruction of the embryo.

Pro-lifers overwhelmingly have opposed such experimentation on human embryos. They have supported the use of stem cells from such adult sources as bone marrow, because the killing of a human being is not required. Recent studies have shown adult stem cells from such sources can be effective.

The United States appears unlikely to follow Great Britain’s lead, at least in the near future. There seems to be strong opposition in Congress and the White House to human-embryo cloning.

President Bush has said he is opposed to federal funding of research using destroyed human embryos. He has not said, however, whether he would seek to rescind federal guidelines established in August by the National Institutes of Health that permit federally funded research on cells obtained from private sources.

Congress adopted a measure in 1996 prohibiting federal support for “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed.” The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, as well as pro-life leaders in Congress and other pro-life organizations, criticized the NIH action as a violation of the sanctity of human life and of the federal law. They also said it was a presumptive move when stem cells from other sources have shown promise.

The 212-92 vote by the House of Lords, as reported by CNSNews.com, came a week after a wide range of religious leaders wrote an open letter to lawmakers asking them to oppose the new rules.

Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children criticized the House of Lords for ignoring widespread opposition to the cloning proposal.

“Once again the government has succeeded in bouncing Parliament into following its ill-judged agenda on biotechnology,” society spokesman Anthony Ozimic said, according to CNSNews.com.

Human beings “will be plundered for their cells and be killed in the process,” he said. “It is also a step on the way to allowing cloning for reproductive purposes.”

Baroness Caroline Cox of the Conservative Party said after the vote Britain was “now out on a moral limb,” according to CNSNews.com.

Great Britain, Mitchell said, “has sawn off the limb while on it.”