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International opposition to cloning



LONDON, England -- Italian professor Severino Antinori and U.S. researcher Panos Zavos are set to unveil details of their controversial plans for human cloning.

But while critics say science is not yet ready to begin experimenting with human cloning, neither is most of the world.

Indeed, the UK's Royal Society believes a worldwide moratorium on the so-called reproductive cloning of babies is necessary to deter scientists such as Antinori who have vowed to go ahead with the controversial procedure.

"A human cloning ban would have public support, is justified on scientific grounds and would assist in improving the public's confidence in science," the society said in a report to the House of Lords.

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Although cloning is prohibited in Britain, there are many countries where the law is either unclear or equivocal.

In Antinori's home country, Italian law forbids "all form of experimentation or intervention whose objective, even indirectly, is the cloning of humans or animals."

The Catholic Church condemns artificial procreation outright and last August Pope John Paul II condemned the vision of human embryo cloning and commercial organ transplants as "morally unacceptable."

Many nations have either announced bans on cloning research or have legislation pending.

The United States House of Representatives voted to ban all human cloning last week.

The legislation, supported by President George W Bush, passed by a 265-162 vote.

The House then went on to reject an amendment to the bill, which would have permitted human cloning for stem cell research, while outlawing it to produce children, by 249-178.

The bill is not yet law, as it first has to be passed by the Democratic-led Senate.

But many scientists, patient groups and the biotech industry oppose the ban because it would outlaw cloning for reproduction as well as "therapeutic cloning" in which scientists make embryonic clones to get stem cells for potential disease treatments.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe's Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine has introduced what is believed to be the first international agreement banning human cloning.

The measure -- called the Protocol on the Prohibition of Cloning Human Beings -- was drafted in the 1990s following successful attempts to clone mammals, particularly by embryo splitting and nuclear transfer.

Twenty-four of the 43 Council of Europe states have signed the protocol, including Spain, Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece and Georgia.

Elsewhere in Europe, German Health Minister Andrea Fischer said last year that she was opposed to human embryo cloning, while France adopted a draft law to ban human cloning in medical research in June.

The French law will place severe restrictions on the use of frozen embryos -- created as part of a fertility programme but no longer needed or claimed by the parents -- for the purposes of medical research.

Last month, Russia approved a five-year moratorium on human cloning.

The Dutch government is proposing to ban medical research involving the therapeutic cloning of human embryos for at least three years.

The embryos bill forbids the creation of embryos specifically for scientific research.

A total ban on human cloning -- the first of its kind -- has been pledged by the UK government.

Human cloning is currently banned by the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

Health officials say legislation would place the UK as the first country in the world to ban human cloning.

However, Parliament voted in January to permit stem cell research on human embryos and also made Britain the first nation to specifically allow cloning to create embryos for that purpose.

Stem cells are the master cells found in early stage embryos. They evolve into all the different tissues of the body, and doctors hope to treat many diseases by directing the cells to develop into needed implants.

In March Israeli Health Ministry legal advisor Miriam Higher told Israel radio: "The law legislated a year-and-a-half ago prohibits cloning. The person who clones is guilty of a criminal offence."

Israel's Chief Sephardic Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron was more emphatic, saying: "The idea of cloning people is against religious law."

In April, Japan proposed new laws to outlaw human cloning. A bill has gone before parliament which, if approved, will make it an offence to implant a cloned human embryo inside a woman.

The proposed legislation would also ban the creation of hybrid embryos containing human and animal genes.

Research into cloning will still be allowed, but only under strict conditions.






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RELATED SITES:
• Italian Medical Association
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