Human Genetics Alert
For immediate release 7th November 2000
Royal Society misleads MPs over cloning
The Campaign Against Human Genetic Engineering (CAHGE; 1) has today condemned the Royal Society's biased and misleading briefing on stem cell research. CAHGE has compiled the attached list of misleading statements and omissions in the Royal Society briefing. CAHGE believes that the Royal Society is misusing its scientific prestige in attempts to overcome the public and MP's resistance to embryo cloning. This would appear to repeat the Society's earlier much-criticised heavy-handed interventions in the GM foods debate.
Analysis of the Royal Society report demonstrates clear bias in favour of the use of embryonic stem cells, and stresses the difficulties in using adult stem cells. The Society suggests that there is much experience in using ES cells, but in fact there are only three papers in the scientific literature on human ES cells. By contrast, adult stem cells are already being used in a variety of therapies. The Royal Society also fails to mention that, unlike adult cells, ES cells pose the risk of forming tumours in patients. The Society also fails to mention the very great technical difficulties that would have to be overcome before ES cells could be used.
Although it is not within its scientific brief to discuss the law, the Society also follows the Government's irresponsible policy of reassurance on the question of reproductive cloning. Current protections in the UK against reproductive cloning rest solely on an HFEA policy decision. More importantly, if British scientists were to develop techniques for embryo cloning, they could immediately be used by entrepreneurs in the USA, where no legal restrictions exist. At that point, British scientists and the government would, no doubt, disclaim all responsibility for the consequences of their action. CAHGE is calling for a moratorium on human embryo cloning until there is a global ban on reproductive cloning.
CAHGE is not an anti-abortion organisation, and is not opposed to research on ES or adult cells. Like the many MPs who opposed Evan Harris's Bill last week, we are unhappy with the attempt by the medical research establishment to steam-roller through research on ES cells and embryo cloning without adequate discussion or a full parliamentary debate. The forthcoming parliamentary discussion on embryo research regulations will be extremely short and MPs will not get to vote on cloning.
Dr David King, coordinator of CAHGE, said: "This is a biased report that attempts to peddle false reassurances. Spin doctoring by the Royal Society does not benefit democracy."
Notes for editors
1. The Campaign Against Human Genetic Engineering is a watchdog group focusing on issues related to human genetics and related technologies. CAHGE is not opposed to genetics research in principle, but is absolutely opposed to human cloning and germ line genetic engineering.