Religious and pro-life groups have expressed concern over the UK government's proposal to change the law to allow scientists to develop disease therapies using cells from early human embryos. The Vatican newspaper condemned last week's decision, saying that a human is an individual before 14 days and after 14 days. Cardinal Thomas Winning, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, has called on MPs to vote against the proposed change to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990.
The move is predicted to spark similar debates in other countries. In the US, research into
therapeutic cloning using embryo stem cells is permitted in the private sector, but government-funded researchers are banned from carrying out any work on embryos. New guidelines, to be issued shortly, would permit federal scientists to work on - but not harvest - embryo stem cells. Going one step further, a bill passing through Congress proposes that government scientists should be permitted to harvest stem cells from embryos donated by patients undergoing IVF treatment. But the creation of embryos for research purposes (and so therapeutic cloning) would remain illegal in the public sector.
Reports in the US newspapers suggest that the likelihood of the US government following the UK's lead on embryo stem cell research could depend on the outcome of November's elections. But Thomas Murray, head of the Hastings Center (the leading US bioethics institute) said that for most people, knowing that a close moral relative 'has made a recommendation more far-reaching than ours will make our position seem more middle-of-the-road, if not conservative'.
Sources and References
Pope accuses Britain of 'violation' over cloning
British panel urges allowing human embryo cloning
Cardinal attacks embryo research proposals