The Socialist government in Spain plans to introduce new legislation in September that would allow therapeutic cloning of human embryos for research purposes, according to its Health Minister, Elena Salgado.
The new law will once again set the government against the Catholic Church in that country, further straining relations already damaged by the recent decision to legalise gay marriage.
'The Church has always been opposed to the advances of science, but fortunately science has continued progressing. And thanks to that we live in better conditions,' Salgado said in an interview with the newspaper El Mundo. She stressed that the law would only allow therapeutic cloning, while reproductive cloning to produce a human being 'is absolutely forbidden. It is a limit that will never be breached', she said.
Meanwhile in France, a group of leading French scientists has called on the government to lift a ban on human therapeutic cloning. Ten scientists, including two Nobel Laureates, submitted a petition to the French National Assembly last week to support the efforts of Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg, a former minister of research and member of the national assembly, to amend the section of the law on bioethics which bans human therapeutic cloning.
The French bioethics law classifies reproductive cloning as a 'crime against humanity' and carries a prison sentence of 30 years and a fine of 7.5 million euros; therapeutic cloning carries a sentence of 7 years and a one million-euro fine.
The petition states: 'To prohibit the nuclear transfer is detrimental to those who are ill. They have a right to see progress in research that can boost their chances of a cure. We ask for a law that authorises research into therapeutic cloning, while submitting that research to a strict regulatory framework'.
A spokeswoman for Jean-Louis Debres, the president of the National Assembly, said that the petition would be actively considered by a commission examining bioethics, the first step towards a change of the law.
French and Spanish scientists are concerned that they are falling behind countries like Britain and South Korea, where therapeutic cloning is allowed. They want the laws changed so that they can remain competitive.