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British MPs back animal-human embryo research

Oct 22, 2008 07:49 PM
by nhcareyta

Britain's lower house of parliament has approved legislation allowing 
scientists to create animal-human embryos for medical research, in 
the biggest shake-up of embryology laws in two decades.

Despite opposition from religious and pro-life groups, MPs in the 
House of Commons today backed the Human Embryology and Fertilisation 
Bill by 355 votes to 129. 

It will now go to a vote in the House of Lords, and could be law by 

The wide-ranging bill, which has been debated for months, would also 
allow "saviour siblings" - children created as a close genetic match 
for a sick brother or sister so their genetic material can help treat 

In addition, it gives lesbians and single women easier access to in-
vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment by removing requirements for 
clinics to consider a child's need for a father.

Health Minister Dawn Primarolo told MPs the bill was about helping 
the one in seven couples who needed fertility assistance, and about 
research to deal with diseases such as Alzheimer's, which affects 
350,000 Britons.

Hybrid embryos, created by inserting the nuclei of a human cell into 
an animal egg, can ensure a more plentiful supply of stem cells for 
use in research into treating conditions like Alzheimer's and 

"It is about research to deal with the dreadful diseases and the 
debilitating attacks on their health from which many in our society 
suffer," the minister told MPs.

"The bill is about combining science with an ethical framework that 
works on behalf of humankind."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is a strong defender of the measures, 
saying Britain owes it to future generations. His son Fraser has 
cystic fibrosis, a disease that could one day benefit from embryo 

However, 16 MPs from his ruling Labour party, including former 
minister Ruth Kelly, a staunch Catholic who quit the government this 
month, voted against the bill and religious groups warned it was the 
next step on a "slippery slope".

Nadine Dorries, a member of the opposition Conservative Party, told 
her fellow MPs that loopholes in the legislation raised the 
possibility of scientists attempting cross-breeding between humans 
and animals.

"Of all the experimental possibilities debated in the course of this 
bill, surely none is quite so utterly repulsive as the possibility of 
seeking to inseminate animals with human sperm," she said.

The debate was overshadowed by complaints from all sides that the 
government had blocked a discussion on reforming the abortion laws. 

Ministers suggested they did not think the current bill was the right 
time to do this.


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