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The recent desperation to clone human embryos may be seriously undermining accepted ethical principles of medical research, with potentially profound wider consequences
In her editorial in the February 2005 issue of this journal, Nikola Biller-Andorno questioned whether the effort and resources that have been invested in debates about cloning at the United Nations might have been somewhat disproportionate, if a binding universal agreement on reproductive cloning cannot be reached.1 Although most of the overt disagreement has centred around “therapeutic” cloning, rather than the potential use of nuclear transfer for reproduction, it is none the less clear that the delay and ultimate failure to date in achieving consensus on the former has also increased the likelihood of the latter becoming a foreseeable reality in the absence of a legally binding global convention. Whilst the much heralded promise of therapies has now been severely undermined by scandals of fraud,2 the available evidence from various primate studies3–5 and the history of similar work with other mammalian species6,7 have provided little reason to doubt that human reproductive cloning might be possible in principle (albeit grossly inefficient and untenably risky). I completely agree with Dr Biller-Andorno’s appeal that we need to “foster a genuine, worldwide discourse on bioethical issues” and not let our debate get completely derailed by vested interests, whether politically or economically motivated. If we don’t, we can probably expect dire consequences for the future of biomedical research and its impact on society at large.
Prior to the United Nations’ discussions regarding a ban on human cloning in October 2004, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in Great Britain announced that they had granted their first licence to clone human embryos by nuclear transfer,8 though no other applications had apparently been made following the legalisation …