More MS news articles for Nov 2001

Ministers consider emergency stem cell legislation,9837,594053,00.html

Thursday November 15, 2001
Joe Plomin

The government is considering emergency legislation to control the use of stem cells from human embryos in research after a landmark high court ruling this morning.

Mr Justice Crane ruled the law as it stands does not govern the latest scientific techniques, through which researchers can create a human embryo using a type of cloning rather than using human sperm.

This means the government technically has no control over stem cell research from such embryos. A source at the Department of Health confirmed the government is now actively considering introducing emergency legislation to the House of Commons. But it could, instead, appeal against today's decision.

Scientists interested in pursuing such research could extract stem cells from the embryos, and theoretically develop them into any type of tissue, which could provide new treatments for spinal injuries, Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis.

However, the campaigners who brought the case to the High Court, the Pro Life Alliance, argue there is no need to use embryos, because much of the work can be done with adult stem cells. The alliance today demanded emergency legislation and that the government suspends the current regulations and the House of Lords' select committee examining the issue.

"The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has no power to stop this research; it isn't a criminal offence and there is nothing that any public authority can do. The law as it stands is hopeless and we are glad we have shown up the government lie that human cloning is prohibited," said Bruno Quintavalle, director of the alliance.

But the scientific advisor to the House of Lords select committee on stem cell research, Professor Christopher Higgins, said, in his personal opinion, there is no danger of any scientists running amuck and creating cloned embryos because of today's ruling.

"They have identified a loophole, but the whole thing is making a mountain out of a mole hill. The House of Commons' committee is looking at what new legislation will be required and will be reporting by Christmas," he said.

Professor Higgins also pointed out that most stem cell research, using either cells from adults or embryos, would not be affected by today's court ruling. He argued, at least in the short-term, researchers would have to continue using cells from embryos if medical science is going to benefit.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001