More MS news articles for Jan 2002

British govt wins human cloning court challenge

LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Britain's government succeeded on Friday in overturning a court ruling that had thrown the country's human cloning laws into confusion over whether they explicitly banned human reproductive cloning.

The battle centred on the legal status of a human embryo created by cell nuclear replacement (CNR)--the same technique used to create Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep.

The High Court ruled in November that such an embryo was not protected by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990, effectively meaning the authorities did not have the power to regulate human cloning.

But on Friday Health Secretary Alan Milburn persuaded the Court of Appeal to overturn that ruling.

In allowing the government's appeal, Lord Phillips said: "I hold that an organism produced by CNR falls within the definition in the act."

Phillips also said he believed parliament would have intended to cover the CNR process in the 1990 law if the process had been known of at the time it was passed.

The implications for human health from the use of CNR procedures were "dramatic," the judge said.

The initial High Court ruling, in a challenge brought by anti-abortion group the Pro-Life Alliance, shocked Britain's scientific and medical community and prompted warnings that the ruling could open the door for controversial fertility specialists to create human clones.

After the November ruling, the government rushed through emergency legislation to close the legal loophole highlighted.

Kenneth Parker QC, representing the health secretary in the Appeal Court, argued that CNR embryos were covered by the 1990 Act and, in the eyes of the law, should be viewed as organisms that were exactly the same as an embryo.

The BioIndustry Association, a trade group, welcomed Friday's ruling, saying CNR could play a vital role in developing treatments for illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, leukaemia, strokes and heart disease.

Although the Appeal Court refused the Alliance leave to appeal to the House of the Lords--Britain's highest court--the group indicated it will reapply for permission direct to the Law Lords.

The court also ordered the Alliance to pay all legal costs, estimated to reach 100,000 pounds ($144,000).

Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited