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British cloning recommendation ‘unconscionable,’ bioethicist says

WASHINGTON (BP)–A British panel’s recommendation in support of human cloning for experimental purposes is an “unconscionable policy,” a Southern Baptist bioethicist said.

As expected since a newspaper report in the spring, a government advisory commission recently released a proposal in favor of ending Britain’s ban on human cloning. The report recommended the prohibition be removed to allow the cloning of human embryos for medical research reasons as long as they are destroyed in the first 14 days, according to The Washington Post.

The administration of Prime Minister Tony Blair has endorsed the recommendation and intends to draft legislation to implement it, The Post reported. A vote in the House of Commons and House of Lords is expected this fall, according to the report. If it passes, Britain apparently will be the first country to permit explicitly the cloning of human embryos, The Post reported.

Ben Mitchell, a biomedical consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the recommendation reprehensible in two ways.

“First, human beings ought not be cloned, and second, the 14-day rule means that the destruction of the embryos is mandatory,” Mitchell said. “That is, every embryo has a government-mandated death sentence. Scientists become executioners.”

The Blair administration’s position “is built on the faulty assumption that an early embryo is not a human being and that we do not have an obligation to protect him or her,” Mitchell said. “In fact, early human embryos should be protected and not destroyed in research. They have at least a right not to be unnecessarily harmed.

“Britain is treading on immoral territory and ought to be told as much. The blood of the innocent cries out from the earth. We ought to cry out too.”

The Roman Catholic Church and the opposition Conservative Party also spoke against the Aug. 16 recommendation.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, said in a commentary, according to the Internet news site CNSNews.com, “The sacrificing of human embryos, even at the earliest stages, is an immoral act. It is neither right nor just that the science of healing should be stained with innocent blood.”

Liam Fox, a health spokesman for the Conservative Party, called the proposal “morally unacceptable,” CNSNews.com reported.

The recommendation was spurred by the hopes of researchers that stem cells extracted from embryos can be used for transplant purposes to provide healing for a variety of ailments, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injuries, strokes and burns. Stem cells are primitive cells from which a wide variety of tissue in the human body develops. The extraction of stem cells results in the killing of the embryo, however.

Pro-life advocates have urged bans on cloning and stem-cell research be maintained while research in the use of stem cells from adults that has shown promise be pursued.

The panel’s report did not recommend a change in a law barring the transfer of a cloned embryo to a woman’s womb, according to The Post.

After reports surfaced last year of private groups in the United States seeking to clone embryos for research, Mitchell called for Congress to prohibit human cloning in this country. Federal funds may not be used for human cloning, but Congress has not enacted an overall ban.

Mitchell is associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.