LONDON, Oct. 31 (AP) - Anti-abortion campaigners launched a High Court battle Wednesday to overturn new regulations that allow the creation of cloned human embryos for medical research.
In January, Britain's parliament passed new regulations under the 1990 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act to legalize the destruction of human embryos for stem cell research, and, in a global first, permit cloning to create embryos for the research.
However, the ProLife Alliance, which has launched a judicial review of the parliamentary vote, contends that parliament cannot authorize cloning under that act. They claim that embryos created by cloning do not fit the definition of embryo under the law because fertilization is not involved.
Thus, the group's lawyer, Gerald Barling, argued at the start of a two-day hearing that authorities cannnot give licenses to use the technique for stem cell research.
Lawyers for the government, defending the parliamentary action, argued that the definition of ``embryo'' in the 1990 Act does cover cloned embryos.
If the court declares that the definition of ``embryo'' in the 1990 act encompasses only those created by in vitro fertilization and that parliament was therefore wrong to authorize cloning under that legislation, the new regulations would be invalid.
All research involving the cloning technique has been postponed until the court case has been resolved.
The 1990 law allowed the destruction of embryos, and their creation, for some types of medical research. In January, parliament extended the types of research allowed on embryos to include stem cell experiments and specifically inserted language saying cloning could be used to create embryos only for stem cell research. The production of cloned embryos to make babies remained banned.
``Cloned embryos have not undergone fertilization and no sperm are involved in their production; therefore they are totally outside the regulatory scheme provided by the Act. As a consequence the government has no way at present of controlling these new technologies, leaving us in a very vulnerable position as numerous rogue scientists press ahead with their plans to clone human beings,'' the group said in a statement.
The government disagrees and says the act provides appropriate safeguards.
Cloned embryos would be made by replacing the nucleus of an egg with that of a cell taken from a person's body, then chemically or electrically prompted to grow into an embryo. That would be the same technique used to produce Dolly the sheep in 1996 and scores of other animals since her.
The embryo would be genetically identical to the person who's cell was inserted in the egg.
Scientists believe that by creating cloned embryos from patients, they will be able to extract stem cells that are perfectly matched for transplant. 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. The procedure destroys the embryo.