By Richard Shaw THE GOVERNMENT has been accused of "political spin" over its promise to make human cloning illegal.
Health Secretary Alan Milburn told scientists and doctors at Newcastle-uponTyne that new legislation would be one of Labour's manifesto pledges at the General Election.
Pro-life groups pointed out, however, that the Government had in fact already legalised cloning between December and February. The move was criticised as "misleading" by Bishop Peter Smith of East Anglia, chairman of the department of Christian responsibility and citizenship of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. He said: "I would be delighted if the Government would indeed ban human cloning by law. Regrettably, as I understand it, the Government intends to ban only cloning for birth whilst continuing to permit human cloning for research.
"The terms 'reproductive' and 'therapeutic' in the context of cloning are misleading. Therapeutic cloning is not therapeutic for the clone, who will die in the course of its cells being taken when it is five to seven days old. "Moreover, such socalled 'therapeutic' cloning is reproductive, since it involves the creation of an embryo, although the embryo will not survive to the point of being born. Supporters of cloning have conceded that the clone embryo is a human organism: an early human life."
Pro-life peer Lord Alton of Liverpool called the move a "piece of spin". He said: "It is they who have given the green light on this. There is an artificial distinction being made. It is important for people to be clear.
"Ontologically there is no difference between what you do in 'therapeutic' cloning and 'reproductive' cloning. The only difference is what you are going to use the clone for.
"You could argue that 'therapeutic' cloning is actually worse, because you are disembowelling the embryo to meet the a consumerist demand for spare parts." Paul Tully of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "The Government clearly supports human cloning to generate embryos for spare-parts surgery, and 'reproductive' cloning which is already practised as part of genetic screening techniques licensed by the embryology authority. "It is clear from the Government's actions, if not from Mr Milburn's words, that the new legislation will neither stop the creation of cloned human embryos, nor give them proper protection once they have been created."
Peter Garrett of Life said: "This is pure political spin, designed to make the Government look good in time for the General Election. Two facts are worth remembering. "First, when Parliament agreed to allow cloning a few months ago, the Minister for Health categorically stated that full pregnancy cloning was already unlawful. Now we are told that legislation is needed in order to ban it. So Parliament was misled. Second, far from being the first country to ban human cloning, we have become the first to legalise it for destructive research."