A briefing paper for the Church of England's Board for Social Responsibility describes the use of cloned early embryo cells for research into disease treatments as 'morally acceptable', according to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. The paper was written by Canon Dr John Polkinghorne, chair of the board's science and medical technology committee.
Dr Evan Harris, an Oxford MP and an active supporter of embryo stem cell research, welcomed the paper's positive approach. 'It would be morally wrong not to allow embryo research to find new treatments for disease' he said. Earlier this week, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland said that the UK would become 'a pariah state' if it allowed human embryos to be cloned. Cardinal Thomas Winning said that permitting such research would 'pave the way' for designer babies. But Health Minister Yvette Cooper has promised tight control of any new procedures: 'Reproductive cloning is illegal. It will stay illegal', she told BBC News Online.
MPs are due to vote on the proposed amendment to the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act sometime before the end of January 2001. A recent report by the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) called for staged ethical assessments during European-funded research on embryo stem cells. In a letter to last week's Nature, Britain's EGE committee member Dr Anne McLaren criticised the journal for its article on the report, saying it 'engenders confusion rather than clarity'. She claims the article, which appeared two weeks earlier, failed to distinguish between different types of human 'research embryos'.