Cloning doctor 'coming to UK'

Controversial Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori is making plans to come to Britain to start cloning babies after a court ruling showed that, as the laws stand, he cannot be stopped.

The Government is considering introducing emergency legislation after ProLife campaigners said a High Court decision yesterday made existing laws on human cloning in Britain redundant.

Mr Justice Crane ruled that an organism created by cell nuclear replacement is not an embryo and therefore not covered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

The process, used to produce Dolly the sheep, was meant to be governed by the 1990 Act but the ProLife Alliance said yesterday's ruling meant there "are no safeguards to stop any form of cloning in this country".

Professor Antinori told BBC2's Newsnight he would start setting up a cloning programme in Britain immediately.

He said: "Absolutely this decision increases my chances very much. We want to begin a programme in the UK. My reaction is happy ... I will phone my friend in England to establish the collaboration in cloning work."

Even if there was emergency legislation brought in to reinstate the reproductive cloning ban, he hoped there would be enough time for him tocreate cloned embryos and implant them in the meantime.

"In Britain for me the level of the technology is extraordinary - for me in one, two, three months is ready to perform a lot of investigations, a lot of applications.

"I am convinced two months is enough to perform a lot of programmes."

Government health minister Lord Hunt told Newsnight: "I think we need to look very carefully at the comments made by the Italian doctor ... We had thought that it was outlawed by the 1990 Act, we had thought that the regulatory authority had the power to refuse any licence to people engaged in cloning.

"It appears that isn't the case and that's why we're giving very urgent consideration to what needs to happen next."

He had earlier reiterated the Government's opposition to human (reproductive) cloning.

He said: "We are totally opposed to human reproductive cloning and have said that we will introduce legislation to make this a specific criminal offence.

"The judge granted leave to appeal against his decision and we intend to do so. But it is important to stress that stem cell research using embryos created by egg and sperm to treat serious diseases are not affected by this judgment."

The Department of Health also said earlier: "The department may appeal against the judgment. The department may also consider introducing emergency legislation to ban human reproductive cloning using cell nuclear replacement (CNR)."

Leading scientists claimed British experts in cloning would not produce human embryos in the UK for any purpose until legal clarification was available.

Bruno Quintavalle, director of the ProLife Alliance, said after the judgment: "The upshot of the judgment is that there are no safeguards to stop any form of cloning in this country.

"The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has no power to stop it; it isn't a criminal offence and there is nothing that any public authority can do.

"The law as it stands is hopeless and we are glad we have shown up the Government lie that human cloning is prohibited."

His organisation had gone to the High Court seeking declarations that would either halt cloning experiments altogether or force the Government to tighten up the legal framework which, they argued, was failing to provide essential safeguards.

Stem cells from embryos have the potential to develop into most types of tissues and medical experts say research could lead to the possibility of tissue regeneration using an individual's own cells.

This could help overcome major problems in the field of organ transplants, such as rejection, and also lead to new applications for spinal injury, as well as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis.

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "While the Government has made an almighty mess of this, Dr Antinori's claims of imminent human cloning are not credible.

"It is almost impossible that Dr Antinori would find collaborators, eggs, embryos and women willing to be implanted in the time available before the legal situation is clarified.

"On safety grounds alone, any doctor attempting to create a pregnancy using a cloned embryo would not be acting ethically and would be liable for GMC censure and possibly even charges of assault.

"There is no ban on human reproductive cloning in his home country of Italy, yet Dr Antinori has created nothing more than self-publicity."

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