Human Genetics Alert
For immediate release 21 st April 2004
HGA calls on regulator to reject cloning proposal
Human Genetics Alert (HGA; 1) today condemned Prof. Ian Wilmut’s proposal to clone human embryos. HGA’s Director, Prof. David King, said: “This research proposal is unnecessary, and crosses important ethical lines for the first time. It also risks giving crucial help to those who want to clone babies. We shall be writing to the HFEA urging them not to allow this research. It is vital that this receives wide public debate, and that we do not get stuck in the sterile pro-life versus science opposition.”
- This research is irresponsible: once Prof. Wilmut publishes his methods for creating viable cloned human embryos it will be simple for those who want to clone babies to do so in the many countries which lack legislation. Prof. Wilmut admitted this last year in a BBC interview, and called for a global ban on cloning babies: if he wishes to be taken seriously on this, he must restrain himself from helping cloners until such a ban is in place.
- The research is unethical in two ways: firstly,this project will require the donation of eggs purely for research. This would impose serious health risks upon the women involved, which are not justified by the gains from this research. Furthermore, there is a shortage of egg donors for fertility treatment in Britain . Infertile women who need donor eggs will be angry that eggs are being diverted to speculative research.
- Secondly, the project involves the creation of embryos purely for research. HGA is not a pro-life group, and supports women’s right to choose abortion. However, UK law is based on the concept that embryos are morally significant entities and must be treated with respect. The creation of embryos purely as a means to an end (as raw material for research), and not for the purpose of reproduction, degrades their moral status. This is why, although many countries allow embryo research, only a tiny handful, including Britain , allow the creation of embryos purely for such a purpose.
- The research is premature, unnecessary and politically-motivated: there is currently no evidence that there are changes in the motor neurones of young chilProf.en or foetuses that are relevant to the symptoms of motor neurone disease (MND). This is not surprising since MND symptoms only occur in middle age, decades after the stage of embryonic stem cells from which they were derived. Thus MND is a poor target for using this research method. There are many pitfalls in Prof. Wilmut’s research method, which mean that it is unlikely to be useful, according to independent scientists that HGA has consulted. Prof. Wilmut has also recently acknowledged that there are alternative ways of adProf.essing this research question.
Thus it is extremely difficult to see how this research can be seen as necessary within the meaning of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Rather, it appears that Prof. Wilmut is grasping at straws, looking for a useful application of embryo cloning, primarily for the political reason of averting a global ban on embryo cloning which is being discussed at the UN.
For further information, please call Prof. David King on 020 7704 6100.
Notes for editors
1. Human Genetics Alert is an independent watchdog group funded by a leading British charity.