Human cloning bans advance in “radically changed” stem cell field


In one of the first legislative actions involving embryonic cloning since the discovery of a breakthrough stem cell production technique, lawmakers in an Australian state have rejected legislation that would allow human cloning for research purposes, Cybercast News Service reports. 

Advocates of bans on such cloning argued the new discovery has “radically changed” the field and helps justify the prohibition of research that destroys human embryos.

Last November, scientists in the U.S. and Japan reported the successful “direct reprogramming” of human adult skin cells into cells that behave like embryonic stem cells.  These “induced pluripotent stem cells,” iPS cells, are considered to have significant research and therapeutic promise while avoiding the ethical problems involved in creating, manipulating, and destroying human embryos.

Cybercast News Service reports that the upper house of the Western Australia parliament on Tuesday voted down a bill presented by the Labor government that would have resembled federal legislation passed in late 2006 that lifted a ban on human “therapeutic cloning,” somatic-cell nuclear transfer.

Though several Australian states had passed similar legislation, the Western Australia bill was the first considered since the progress of iPS cell research was announced.  Several lawmakers opposed to the bill said the legislation was rendered outdated by the new research.

Western Australia minister of health Jim McGinty attacked the vote, saying, "Conservative forces in the upper house… have denied the people of Western Australia world class medical research and denied people with life threatening medical conditions potential cures.”

Professor Peter Klinken of the Western Australia Institute for Medical Research said embryonic cloning was still relevant to stem cell research. 

"All stem cell research has pluses and minuses and we need to explore all of them and not close off any doors," he said, according to Cybercast News Service.

The Australian Christian Lobby welcomed the decision, saying the lawmakers were the first “to reject pressure to line up with national cloning laws.” 

"Human embryo cloning has always been wrong, as human life should not be
arbitrarily created and destroyed, no matter how noble the supposed goal might be," said the lobby's Western Australia director, Michelle Pearse.

Dr. David Van Gend, national director of Australians for Ethical Stem Cell Research, said the lawmakers understood that stem cell science has “so radically changed since November 2007, providing such a magnificent and ethical alternative to cloning, that there is no longer any compelling argument for cloning.”

“This blighted science can be left to wither on the vine,” he said. 

Van Gend noted that world leaders in cloning science, including Ian Wilmut, creator of the first cloned mammal, Dolly the Sheep, had abandoned cloning in favor of directly reprogramming cells.

Van Gend urged other Australian states to rescind their approval of therapeutic cloning.

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