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British parliament approves embryo research, cloning

LONDON (BP)–British lawmakers, in a Dec. 19 vote, gave a go-ahead for research on human embryos, according to the Internet news site CNSNews.com. Supporters said the action may help cure disease while opponents described it as immoral, dangerous and anti-life.

By a 366-174 vote to relax 10-year-old legislation, lawmakers thereby allowed specialists to harvest early stage embryos for “stem cells,” which they believe can be used to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s and leukemia.

They will be able to use embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and also “manufacture” cloned embryos in laboratories for this purpose, employing the same technology used to clone Dolly the sheep. Once harvested, the embryos will be destroyed.

Prime Minister Tony Blair strongly backed the move, which the government believes will secure Britain’s place at the forefront of biotechnological research, CNSNews.com reported.

He said earlier: “Some people are opposed in principle to all forms of embryo research on ethical grounds. But we must also recognize that when stem cell research has huge potential to improve the lives of those suffering from disease, there are also strong ethical arguments in favor … .”

Because of the sensitivity of the subject, members of parliament were allowed to vote according to conscience.

In the House of Commons before the vote, junior Health Minister Yvette Cooper played down the significance of the decision.

The new legislation, she said, was a “sensible extension” to current regulations and does not raise “any new moral issues beyond those that have already been debated and discussed in the present law.”

Cooper insisted strict regulations would govern work in this field.

But the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which has spearheaded pro-life opposition to the move, called the vote “deeply disturbing,” CNSNews.com reported.

“This country has cast itself into uncharted ethical waters,” said national director John Smeaton. “It has also broken ranks with European political opinion, which is squarely opposed to all forms of human cloning.”

The society said it believed the House of Commons result could be attributed to the fact that lawmakers had insufficient time “to consider the profound issues involved.” It voiced hope that the upper House of Lords will strike down the legislation.

Another pro-life group, Life, said the cloning of people would become inevitable.

“Once you open the floodgates on the production of human cloned embryos, you are setting up the preconditions for full pregnancy cloning,” said Peter Garrett, Life’s research director.

“My view is that we are only a couple of years away from cloning human beings.”

Opposition has also come from European Union institutions and the Vatican. Pope John Paul II has decried what he calls the atrocities perpetrated against “the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.”

Voting crossed party lines, although the Conservative Party’s front-bench spokesman on health, Dr. Liam Fox came out publicly and strongly against the measure.

“Just because we can do something does not mean we have to,” Fox said.
Goodenough is CNSNews.com’s London bureau chief. Used by permission. A low res (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: UNBORN CHILD AT 6 WEEKS.

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  • Patrick Goodenough