London, 21st January 2008 - The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has strongly criticised statements made during today's House of Lords debate on the government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill. Lord Patel was promoting an amendment to permit the creation of cloned embryos from cells donated in the past, where the donors have not been informed of any possibility of their being cloned. The amendment would permit such human embryos to be used in research and then destroyed, or to be kept in long-term storage.
Lord Patel stated in his speech that researchers should be allowed to clone people suffering from conditions like spinal muscular atrophy who have previously donated tissue for research but have never given explicit consent to their cells being used to create embryos.
Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, said: "Lord Patel's proposals do a great disservice to medicine. His suggestion could cause enormous damage to public confidence in medical research and the probity of scientists. It is deeply disturbing that any scientist of repute should suggest that people might be cloned without their knowledge or consent. It has never been suggested before that adults who donate tissue might be cloned without their consent. It is all the more disturbing that the suggestion applies retrospectively to tissue that may have been donated many years ago.
"This suggestion could lead to people being reluctant to donate blood, organs or other tissue, knowing that influential medical scientists might call for the principle of informed consent to be changed in retrospect."
"Although the amendment was withdrawn this evening, after government spokewoman Baroness Royall expressed reservations, we must treat the government's reservations with great scepticism. They have repeatedly given way to the medical research lobby on proposals in the bill after first putting up a show of resistance," concluded Mr Tully.
Note for editors: Lord Patel made specific reference to using previously donated tissue to create embryos by "SCNT" (somatic cell nuclear transfer) - a euphemism for the cloning process used to create Dolly the sheep.