The Singapore parliament on Thursday, September 2, passed a new law drawn up by the health ministry, which prohibits reproductive cloning. Crucially for the country's life sciences community, the law does not forbid cell nuclear transfer for the purposes of developing stem cells.
The health ministry introduced the draft law in May this year, saying that it was taking a step-by-step approach to regulating biomedical research. The first step is the "Human cloning and other prohibited practices bill," which imposes a fine of up to SGD $100,000 (USD $58,700) or 10 years in prison, or both.
"This is because human reproductive cloning is the most pressing issue at this time and attracts the greatest ethical concerns," the ministry said in a statement.
The bill prohibits the placing of any cloned human embryos in bodies of humans or animals. There are also prohibitions on the import or export of any cloned embryos and the commercial trading of human eggs, human sperm and human embryos.
The legislation also forbids the developing of human embryos created by means other than fertilization for more than 14 days, and forbids researchers from developing human embryos outside the body of a woman for more than 14 days.
The 14-day cut-off leaves plenty of time for the derivation of stem cells, said Miodrag Stojkovic, a stem cell researcher at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the United Kingdom. "Beyond 14 days you see the start of the primitive streak development," he told
Nevertheless, Singapore is home to a range of biotechnology and life sciences companies, and sees itself as an Asian hub for biomedical research. In that endeavour, the Singapore Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) plays an energetic role.
One of A*STAR's flagship projects, Biopolis, is conceived as a cornerstone for building the biomedical sciences industry in the country. Biopolis is a purpose-built biomedical campus where public and private sector researchers can work side-by-side. The aim is to attract international companies to the country, and encourage local start-ups.
Singapore's decision also takes on a global resonance as it comes just weeks ahead of a scheduled United Nations debate on a global convention on cloning. Many science academies are urging governments to support a global ban on reproductive cloning, but to allow reproductive cloning. The last round of that debate, in 2003, saw nations bitterly divided on the issue.