THE BISHOPS OF ENGLAND AND WALES have dismissed a Government undertaking to make human cloning illegal as "misleading".
Last week, the Secretary of State for Health, Mr Alan Milburn, claimed in a speech to scientists and doctors at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, that the Government would outlaw human cloning and the encouragement of it. It is also planned to make the new legislation one of Labour's manifesto pledges for the forthcoming General Election. This is much worse than merely misleading, for, of course, the Government has already legalised human cloning: all the bogus election pledges in the world will not change that reality.
When, a few months ago. Parliament was debating those regulations which opened the way to this development, the Government gave the following reassurances: that what was being considered was "therapeutic" cloning and that this is not really cloning at all (only so-called reproductive cloning is); that reproductive cloning — the nasty one — was already unlawful and would always be so: that cell nuclear replacement (CNR — the technique used to produce Dolly the sheep and now to make copies of human beings) was already lawful; that stem cells taken from cloned human embryos would be used only in essential initial research to discover how to use adult stem cells for treatnient.
In short, there was no slippery slope here. Parliament was doing nothing more than allowing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to licence extended use of stem cells produced by an already lawful technique. If there were any misgivings, they would be short-lived.
But this mish-mash of half-truths, untruths, evasion and spin has now imploded.
That cloning for therapeutic purposes is not cloning is so absurd that, though Mr Blair may still believe his government intends to "ban" cloning tout court nobody else does. According to his Health Secretary, reproductive cloning may not currently be unlawful after all, despite what Parliament was told. This is because the 1990 Act which set up the HFEA deals only with embryos which have been fertilised in the normal way — and CNR embryos are not. They are produced by an electric shock passed through an egg which has had its nucleus replaced; not by fusion of a sperm and ovum.
But wait: if existing law cannot prevent CNR being used for reproductive cloning, because it is outside the scope of the 1990 Act, CNR cannot be licensed by the HEEA for therapeutic cloning either. And if only that which is licensed is lawful, CNR must be unlawful. In other words, the Government's claim that CNR was already "permitted under current law" was wildly misleading.
Meanwhile, yet more evidence accumulates that adult stem cells will make better therapeutic material than embryonic ones. There is a slippery slope. We are going down it. Reproductive cloning is already being attempted. And one hears of spine-chilling proposals to allow cloned children to grow up to say 28 weeks in order to provide ova and organs for transplants.
All this makes yet more outrageous the fact that the Government should have used a mere Statutory Instrument to smuggle such momentous changes through Parliament.
And since Parliament was egregiously misinformed on crucial matters of fact, should not that Instrument be scrapped and the whole issue debated afresh by a new and better informed Pail iament?