Britain’s liberal policies on cloning will assist maverick doctors’ efforts to create a cloned human baby, according to President Bush’s most senior bioethics adviser.
By allowing scientists to clone human embryos for research, countries such as Britain that have permissive regulatory regimes are promoting the perfection of technology that will one day be abused for reproduction, Leon Kass, chairman of Mr Bush’s Council on Bioethics, said.
The only acceptable approach to cloning is a global ban, in line with a motion proposed by Costa Rica to be discussed by the United Nations today and tomorrow, he told the conference.
Britain, which supports a Belgian counter-motion that would outlaw reproductive cloning but allow individual nations to decide on use for therapeutic purposes, is on the wrong side of the moral argument, he said. Even permitting therapeutic cloning will assist the Raelian cult and maverick scientists to clone a human baby.
“I’m afraid I do think Britain is wrong,” Dr Kass said. “The only effective way to stop cloning for reproductive reasons is to stop all cloning. Allowing it for research will. . . make it more likely that others can do cloning for reproductive purposes. If you’re really serious about preventing cloning for baby-making, you have to stop this at the cloning stage.”
Britain’s position on cloning is among the most liberal in the world, allowing the cloning of human embryos for medical research under licence. To date, only one team, at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, has been granted permission to pursue this, though a second, led by Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute, who led the team that cloned Dolly the sheep, has applied for a licence.
While reproductive cloning is already banned in Britain, the Government supports therapeutic cloning because of its potential for treating diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes, by creating clone embryos of a patient as a source of stem cells. Because they are identical, these cells can be injected into the patient without risk of attack from the immune system.
Dr Kass added: “It is one thing to use an embryo already created and another to create one explicitly for exploitative research. You have a genotype that is quite deliberately chosen, and that is a first step toward the genetic engineering of an early stage of human life.”
A spokesman for the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research said: “President Bush cannot get this legislation through [the] US Congress. That’s why he’s running to the UN.”