The creation of babies by cloning is widely believed to be illegal in Britain, but an anti-abortion organization has challenged that view in court, saying that the law governing research on embryos has a loophole because it applies only to embryos created by fertilization of an egg by sperm. The government insists it applies to all embryos. A ruling on the action is due any day.
In cloning, scientists remove the genetic material from an egg and replace it with that of a cell taken from the person being cloned. The reconstructed egg is then prodded to divide. Classic fertilization does not take place.
Legislators worried about a flaw in the law have urged the government to clarify the matter by introducing a separate, explicit cloning ban as soon as possible. Antinori has said he intends to apply to Britain's regulator, the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, for a license to begin work on cloning babies. "Worldwide, this is not considered acceptable and it will remain illegal in the United Kingdom," junior health minister Hazel Blears told lawmakers. "The government is absolutely clear that reproductive cloning cannot take place in the U.K.," she said. "In recent days, Professor Antinori has said he seeks to carry out such treatment in the U.K. But it will not be permitted to take place."
She assured lawmakers that a bill to fix the cloning ban in the statutes was forthcoming. In January, Britain became the first country to specifically authorize some cloning when it tweaked its embryo research laws to allow cloning only for research on embryonic stem cells.
Stem cells are the master cells found in embryos that give rise to all other cells in the body. Doctors hope they will be able to cure or treat hundreds of diseases by directing stem cells to develop into any type of tissue needed for transplant. The stem cells are extracted when the embryo is a few days old. Scientists hope that by taking stem cells from embryos created by cloning a cell from a sick person, transplants would be a perfect match, eliminating the basic problem of the immune system rejecting transplants because they come from someone else's body.