When British Members of Parliament (MPs) troop through the lobbies following their debate on stem cell research tomorrow, it will be the first vote on a purely scientific issue during the current Labour administration and one of only a handful of 'free' votes — meaning that MPs can vote according to their own consciences, rather than as the party whips direct them.

Whenever the issue of stem cell technology has been addressed by legislature around the world, it has created intense debate. In the US, profound opposition to using foetuses for research came from the religious lobby, forcing a compromise decision, meaning that no public funding is available for this research.

In Italy, the Catholic Church has been outspoken in its abhorence of stem cell technology, except where cells can be gained from adults. The Church lost an important referendum recently on abortion and was keen to make a show...

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