Aussie panel urges end to cloning ban

Scientists cheer review committee's proposal to allow therapeutic cloning

By | December 19, 2005

Australia should relax its current ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and permit scientists to use the technique in stem cell research, a legislative review committee told the government today (December 19).

The recommendation has pleased stem cell researchers in the country who say it could improve Australia's global standing in what is still a hot research field.

"I think it is going to be very helpful," Hugh Niall, chief executive officer of the Australian Stem Cell Centre, told The Scientist. "The recommendation about SCNT would put Australian researchers on a par with researchers in the UK and elsewhere, and allow them to use a valuable research tool."

Bob Williamson, chair of the Australian Academy of Science's National Committee for Medicine, said he was particularly pleased that the committee recommended that SCNT only be permitted in the context of a strict prohibition on cloning for reproduction. "I hope that the government adopts this carefully thought out set of recommendations without further delay," he said.

The committee that issued the SCNT recommendation was established in June last year to conduct independent reviews of two 2002 laws: the Prohibition of Human Cloning Act and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act. Those laws established a strict regulatory framework that prohibits human cloning, and regulates research involving excess human embryos from assisted reproductive technology.

After considering 1035 written submissions and 109 personal presentations, committee members delivered their report today to the minister for aging, Julie Bishop. "In view of the range of diseases and conditions that stem cell research aims to help, and the burden of disease involved, the Committee has recommended that the creation of human embryo clones by SCNT should be permitted, under licence, for research, training and clinical applications," they wrote.

The government will now consider the report, and is expected to give members of parliament a chance to vote on whether to adopt its recommendations in the coming year.

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