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New bill 'full of loopholes which may be exploited,' says CMF
Published: 26th November 2001
Peter Saunders, General Secretary of CMF (Britain’s largest organisation of Christian doctors), comments today: 'This panic legislation is full of loopholes which unscrupulous lawyers and scientists could exploit. It is likely to backfire on the government as badly as the hasty and ill-conceived amendments to the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act which sparked this whole furore in the first place.
‘The government must issue an immediate moratorium on ALL human cloning, both reproductive and therapeutic, and take time to draft proper primary legislation in the light of the new advances in stem cell research which are making the use of human embryo clones rapidly redundant.
The Bill 'prohibits the placing in a woman of a human embryo which has been created otherwise than by fertilisation'. The loopholes therefore include:
- Embryos could be produced here in the UK and exported for implantation abroad or in a portakabin on a ship anchored offshore - the woman could then return to have her baby in the UK.
- Cloned babies could still be born here if they are both produced and implanted abroad.
- Cloned embryos could be grown in a lab past 14 days (and if the technology becomes available to the foetal stage or even ‘to birth’) because, as has already been established by the recent High Court ruling, cloned embryos are not governed by the HFE Act. The HFE Act prohibits embryos being allowed to live beyond 14 days.
- Cloned embryos could conceivably be placed in the womb of a female of another species or in a man (theoretical possibilities but not beyond technological advance).
- It might be successfully argued that cloned embryos are not embryos at all (and thus not covered under the new Bill) but simply 'cellular life' - this is what Dr West from Advanced Cell Technology has already argued in this morning's Independent. This would mean that the new Bill may not apply to cloned embryos because they are not embryos (the Bill doesn't even define embryo!).
- The law will be impossible to police - this is because no-one will announce illegal cloned humans until after they are born - when it will be impossible to prove that they are cloned without producing the human beings from whom the genetic material in the emrbyo (both nuclear and mitochondial) was derived. Lawyers will simply deny that the child is a clone and the burden of proof will be on the government to prove it with all the hassle and taxpayer's money that that involves. And suppose one of the DNA donors has since emigrated, or eluded detection or even worse died? Will the police then be left to hunt down the 'suspects'?
Cloning embryos is wrong, for three reasons:
- Cloning embryos is unethical because it uses human embryos as a means to an end. This runs counter to the Judaeo-Christian ethic, enshrined in our legal system and in international codes such as the Declaration of Geneva (1948) which affirms unequivocally that human life - at every stage of its development - deserves the utmost respect.
- Therapeutic cloning will lead inevitably to reproductive cloning. Once cloned embryos exist, theoretically all that is needed to produce human clones would be to implant them in a womb – a technique that is simple to perform and impossible to police.
- There is a viable alternative to embryonic cloning in adult stem cell technology. The latest research suggests that adult stem cells, eg from the bone marrow, have much more flexibility than was previously thought and are therefore more effective in replacing damaged cells. Much of this work postdates the Donaldson Report which recommended the use of embryonic stem cells and was accepted by the government in summer 2000. This report, which provided the basis for the government's hurried legislation a year or so ago, is now 18 months out of date and based on yesterday's science.
Added Saunders: “It took 277 attempts to produce Dolly the sheep and early indications are that human cloning will be much more difficult. The ACT clone was only grown to the 6 cell stage and then failed to progress further. Foetuses produced by nuclear transfer are ten times more likely to die in utero than foetuses produced by normal sexual means, while cloned offspring are three times more likely to die after birth.
‘Cloning humans would lead to high foetal loss and deformities in the newborn - and will always be wrong for these reasons alone - not to mention the social and psychological sequelae for the clones, their families and society at large.
For further information:
Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668
Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225
Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.
CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.