British Government to Make Decision Wednesday on Hybrid Cloning Study

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 4, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Government to Make Decision Wednesday on Hybrid Cloning Study Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 4,

London, England ( — The British government is set to make a decision on Wednesday about whether scientists can engage in human and animal cloning that fuses the two together. Pro-life groups there have been outraged that scientists would pursue fusing human and animal DNA together, even in an effort to fight diseases.

The researchers are pursuing human-animal chimeras and want to infuse DNA from the eggs of dead cows with that of humans to create embryos that can be killed and harvested for stem cells.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is set to decide on two applications buy two teams of scientists.

If it approves the requests, Britain would be set apart from the United States, Canada and Australia, all of which prohibit the cloning of hybrids.

The researchers claim the process of inserting DNA into the cow eggs will allow them to gain a better understanding of some genetic diseases, such as motor neurone disease. They also say the chimeras can give them an access to stem cells and eggs that they don’t currently have.

They say the rates of donation of eggs by women at fertility clinics is low as few women want to undergo the egg extraction procedure because it is painful and has medical risks.

Stephen Minger, a scientist at King’s College London and one of the two who have filed the applications, said he would be disappointed if it is rejected tomorrow.

"We pride ourselves here on working in a pro-science environment," he told the Christian Science Monitor. "It would be viewed as a depressing turn of events."

"By using cow eggs, we are availing ourselves of a source of a very large number of eggs without the need to put women through an invasive procedure from which we will never get very many eggs," he added.

But pro-life groups say the grisly science isn’t worth pursuing.

"If hybridization is difficult and cloning is even more difficult, is this the most sensible way forward?" Josephine Quintavalle, director of a pro-life ethics group, asked.

She also pointed to a new poll the HFEA conducted of 2,000 British residents finding that only 35 percent agreed with making human-animal hybrids while 48 percent disagreed.

"There is religious opposition to it, there is concern from animal rights activists, and there is also opposition from scientists who consider it unnecessary," she told the Monitor.

The Catholic Church has previously spoken out against the creation of chimeras and it submitted documents to the Authority asking it to reject the researchers’ application.

"At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and be treated accordingly," it said.

Furthering the controversy, the British government has proposed legislation the parliament will debate later this year that will allow scientists to create human-animal hybrids.

The bill mandates that the created entity, an unborn child who is 99.9 percent human and less than one percent animal, be destroyed within two weeks and not be implanted in a mother’s womb.

Catholic Church leaders in England strongly oppose this cloning technique and the chimeras it will create, but they also oppose the destruction of the human embryo the cloning process creates.

“At the very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings, and should be treated accordingly," Catholic leaders said in June.