The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), which is holding its annual conference in Prague this week, has again renewed its moratorium on human reproductive cloning.
ESHRE began a voluntary five year moratorium on the cloning of human babies in 1999, in response to developments in animal cloning and fears that these skills could be transferred and used in attempts to clone humans. At the annual ESHRE conferences over the last two years (since the original five year moratorium ended) the organisation, which represents more than 4000 international fertility experts, has continued the moratorium. This year, the Executive Committee has decided to continue the moratorium for at least a further year, saying that in the light of data from animal cloning, it would be 'totally irresponsible, as well as unethical, to start human reproductive cloning'.
Dr Francoise Shenfield, the co-ordinator of ESHRE's ethical committee, said that there would be 'major practical problems' before success in human reproductive cloning would be possible, adding that 'not least of which is the high chance of abnormal babies, even if abnormalities are not apparent at birth'. She added that there would also be important ethical objections to cloning: 'the deliberate generation of clones could infringe upon the dignity and integrity of human individuals by increasing genetic determinism and restricting autonomy and individuality at both a psychological and societal level'.
The current chairman of ESHRE, Professor Hans Evers, who ends his term on 1 July, said that he thought the publicity given to human reproductive cloning, even though no-one has so far successfully attempted it, had a damaging effect on the world of fertility research as a whole and that it was important to ensure that the use of cloning techniques in research - including stem cell research - was not damaged in the 'outcry' over human reproductive cloning. 'ESHRE supports cloning for therapeutic purposes', he said, adding that 'it is vital if we are to develop potential new treatments for serious human diseases'. He added that he thought that any scientists who seek publicity for, or who attempt human reproductive cloning, would have 'a damaging effect' on 'the whole field of reproductive research'.