LONDON (Reuters Health) Nov 20 - The British Medical Association (BMA) has backed the Government's proposal to allow embryonic stem cell research in the UK. Meanwhile, preliminary debates on the topic were held in the House of Commons at Westminster today.
The BMA statement calls for Members of Parliament to support regulatory amendments "to permit the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to licence individual research projects involving human embryonic stem cells for the development of tissue for transplantation and the avoidance of mitochondrial disease."
The BMA's position supports the recommendations made by the Chief Medical Officer's Expert Group led by Liam Donaldson in August this year. The position is also supported by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.
But Members of Parliament remain divided on the issue.
According to Ann Winterton, Member of Parliament for Congleton and the most vocal opponent to the proposed changes today in the House of Commons, "The Donaldson report was introduced in August 3 months ago when parliament was not sitting and so denied a proper parliamentary discussion."
"And the publication of the Donaldson report at this time is part of very careful propaganda by the Nuffield Council, the British Medical Association and the Royal Society," she said.
"Reproductive cloning is already illegal in this country. So why are we having this new debate on the Government's reinforcement of these laws? Obviously it is a smoke screen and a defensive tactic for the production of cells for other purposes," stated Winterton.
Winterton also criticized the Government's handling of the stem cell debate, saying that there should be the opportunity to make amendments in parliament, rather than a straight yes and no vote.
The BMA supports the use of embryonic stem cells, as many scientists are unsure whether adult stem cells have as much potential as embryonic cells in application such as grafts. "But research is continually emerging on the use of adult cells," said Winterton.
However, Robert Key, Member of Parliament for Salisbury, commented, "Science should not be held back by the body politic."
The Government is expected to make a final decision on the issue in the next few months.
Copyright © 2000 Reuters Ltd.