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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 10 August 2001

10 August 2001

10 August 2001 US federal funding will not go to research on human embryos created in the laboratory in future. SPUC welcomed President Bush's announcement yesterday, describing it as a courageous stand, but also expressed concerns that funding would be allowed for projects using stem cell lines already taken from embryos. Such cell lines can be cultured in the laboratory for many years. John Smeaton, SPUC's national director, said: "This move will increase the market-value of stem cell lines from embryos who were deliberately destroyed, which is not a good message to send. It could signal to scientists that, if they perform unethical experiments and procedures, they will eventually be rewarded. Mr Bush seems to assume that embryo research would be performed in an ethical way only in pursuit of ethical ends. However, it is still unclear what ethical restrictions will apply to federally-funded research. The president will also have to make provision for the possibility that embryonic stem cells could develop into embryos. Scientists have used embryonic mouse stem cells to grow a complete animal and, if this can also be done with people, human embryonic stem cells may need to be treated as embryos. Mr Bush should make provision for a ban on federal funding if this is found to be the case. Finally, it would be a travesty if federal funds were provided for stem cell research on new embryos whose stem cells were extracted by privately-funded researchers but then handed over for use by government-funded scientists. It is important that the president's statement is studied carefully to ensure that no such loophole exists." [CNN and SPUC media release , 10 August] France and Germany have called on the United Nations to ban human cloning, though it is unclear whether the ban would be just on reproductive cloning or whether it would also include cloning for so-called therapeutic purposes. Although the UN general assembly will probably debate the Franco-German resolution next month, no vote is likely until 2004. The French health minister has called for Professor Severino Antinori, the Italian doctor who plans to begin cloning in November, to be banned from practising medicine. [Guardian, 10 August ] Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, has compared Professor Antinori's project to Nazi eugenics. [Zenit, 8 August ] The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has instructed fertility clinics to implant just two embryos in most cases of in vitro fertilisation, with a view to reducing multiple births. Older women and those with particular conditions might still receive three embryos. [BBC, 7 August ] Last year we reported on research by the secretary to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which suggested that women implanted with two embryos had the same chance of a subsequent live birth as those implanted with three. Even if the number of embryos implanted is reduced, in vitro fertilisation involves extensive destruction of living human beings.

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