LONDON (Reuters Health) Apr 19 - Britain is to outlaw human reproductive cloning while investing new money to ensure patients benefit from scientific breakthroughs in genetics, Health Secretary Alan Milburn announced on Thursday.
The UK is believed to be the first country to propose legislation banning reproductive cloning. Although cloning is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, this falls short of the force of law.
In a bid to allay public concern over the "twin spectres" of human cloning and the emergence of a "genetic underclass," Milburn said legislation will be brought forward to comprehensively ban all forms of human reproductive cloning.
A moratorium on the use of genetic tests by insurance firms, using legislation if necessary, would also be introduced, should the Human Genetics Commission so recommend.
The government has no plans to ban stem cell research, so-called "therapeutic cloning," to the relief of scientists and the dismay of pro-life groups.
Indeed, in his speech to scientists and doctors in Newcastle, in northeast England, Milburn announced a "new ambition" to put Britain at the leading edge of advances in genetic technologies and to develop unrivalled modern genetic health services.
"Genetic advances can be a force for good," he stressed. "It is time we as a nation started preparing today for the opportunities of tomorrow.
"Britain's system of socialised healthcare means citizens can choose to take genetic tests, free from the fear that should they test positive they will face an enormous bill for insurance or treatment, or worse still that they are priced out of care or cover all together," he added.
He announced a five-point plan worth 30 million British pounds sterling for better NHS genetic services. The aim is that by 2006 there will be twice as many specialist consultants in genetics, 300 more National Health Service (NHS) scientific and technicians working in genetics, and at least 150 more specialist genetic counsellors working in the NHS.
Two new national laboratories for genetics would be set up to specialise in rare genetic disorders and diseases and to identify new tests and treatments.
NHS genetics services would be reorganised into a single, national network to make sure all NHS patients get the same standard of specialist genetic services, regardless of where in the UK they to live.
Milburn also announced new agreements and discussions with the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) and American pharmaceutical firm Myriad so that NHS breast cancer patients with the BRCA 1 and 2 genes can have access to genetic testing.
The CRC discovered the BRCA 2 gene but has waived its rights to exploit the patent commercially, opening the way to free genetic testing for women with an inherited risk of this type of breast cancer. Myriad has the patent on the BRCA 1 gene.
Milburn added that
a 10 million pound Genetics Knowledge Challenge Fund would also be created,
bringing together scientific and medical expertise.
Copyright © 2000 Reuters Ltd.