ROME (Reuters Health) Dec 28 - Italy's health minister gave his support Thursday to a report that backs human stem cell cloning.
Following months of evaluation, a group of 25 experts handed Health Minister Umberto Veronesi a document encouraging research into therapeutic cloning of stem cells as a step toward tackling a range of degenerative diseases.
Veronesi called the report "revolutionary" and said he hopes that Italy will be able to pioneer the cloning of stem cells taken from all parts of the body, not just cloning of cells taken from human embryos, which has been severely criticized by the Vatican.
The experts, led by Nobel laureate Renato Dulbecco, were asked to study not just the various forms and techniques of stem-cell cloning but also its ethical ramifications.
Approval of stem cell cloning would bring Italy into line with Britain, Germany, France and the United States, but it is likely to face widespread opposition. Pope John Paul has already expressed profound disapproval on several occasions.
Britain broke ground in August when it backed recommendations allowing therapeutic cloning of human embryo stem cells for use in a wide variety of medical research. The Vatican criticized Britain's decision and condemned cloning as a "gross violation" that sullies innocent blood.
Italy's experts are promoting cloning that would take stem cells from other parts of the body, possibly to avoid angering the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that life begins at conception and condemns any form of meddling with a human embryo.
The Pope has spoken out about the dangers of pushing the boundaries of medical research too far, telling transplantation experts at an international conference last August that human stem cell cloning is "morally unacceptable."
"Every medical procedure performed on the human person is subject to limits: not just the limits of what is technically possible, but also limits determined by respect for human nature itself," the 80-year-old Pontiff said. "What is technically possible is not for that reason alone morally admissible."
2000 Reuters Ltd.