The British parliament has voted to allow the cloning of human embryos, despite a united appeal by the country's religious leaders urging delay.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the two most senior Roman Catholic archbishops, an Orthodox archbishop, Protestant officials and leaders of the Muslim, Sikh and Jewish communities were among 11 religious leaders whose plea was disregarded. They had warned that the issue had not been fully addressed and that "one slight miscalculation" could lead to irreversible implications for future generations.

The move was approved on January 22 by a big majority in the upper chamber, the House of Lords, following its acceptance in December by the lower chamber, the House of Commons.

It will allow the "therapeutic cloning" of embryos up to 14-days-old. The technique involves creating genetically identical embryos from which will be taken stem cells for research into diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, and cancer.

The technique is similar to that used by the Roslin Institute in Scotland to create Dolly the sheep—the world's first cloned mammal—in 1997.

Supporters of research on human embryos argue that therapeutic cloning has nothing to do with reproductive cloning - the creation of a cloned human being - but Lord Alton, in the House of Lords debate, complained about treating human embryos as "just another accessory to be created, bartered, frozen or destroyed."

Referring to existing UK law on embryo research, he said: "Since 1990, when miracle cures were promised for 4,000 inherited diseases, between 300,000 and half-a-million human embryos have been destroyed or experimented upon. There have been no cures, but our willingness to walk this road has paved the way for more and more demand." ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.