Religious Leaders´ Pleas Fail to Block Human-Cloning Measure

Britain Becomes First Nation to OK Procedure

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LONDON, JAN. 23, 2001 (
Over staunch opposition from religious leaders, Britain´s House of Lords has backed new government rules allowing limited cloning of human embryos, thus making Great Britain the first country to legalize such a procedure.

The measure´s objective is to encourage research on stem cells, which are master cells that can develop into different cell types, such as blood, brain and bones. They offer the potential to treat diseases ranging from Parkinson´s, diabetes and cancers, to leukemia, hepatitis and stroke.

The House of Lords voted 212-92 for the legislation, after a seven-hour debate. The House of Commons approved the legislation 366-174 last month.

The law was squarely opposed by the country´s religious leaders. The Anglican Church, represented by the archbishop of Canterbury, joined forces with Catholic archbishops, the United Kingdom´s chief rabbi, and the president of the Islamic School, to impede the measure´s approval.

Independent peer Lord David Alton, a pro-life campaigner, released a letter from the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader; George Carey, the archbishop of Canterbury; and Jonathan Sacks, Britain´s chief rabbi, urging Parliament to set aside the laws.

Alton said the government was railroading the order through Parliament without proper scrutiny, and proposed a motion that would freeze the legislation until a special committee had heard exhaustive evidence from experts.

«It is precisely because we need to consider these things in detail, that we shouldn´t be stampeded into making decisions,» he said.

Alton said there «are many strong ethical and scientific arguments, which may be deployed against cloning techniques, but we are also strongly at variance with international opinion.»

Alton´s amendment fell as the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair bought off opponents by promising to allow a committee of experts to scrutinize the ethics and science of the issue as long as the House of Lords voted the order through on the night.

Just hours before the debate, in a last call over BBC microphones, Catholic Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O´Connor said the government´s plans were alarming.

The new normative, which will enter into force Jan. 31, states that embryos used for research must be destroyed after 14 days. Some weeks ago, the European Parliament urged Britain to stop its plans.

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