Israel’s Health Committee Approves Human Cloning In Principle

HAIFA, March 12, 2004 ( - The Israeli Health Ministry has given the go-ahead to cloning of human beings for experimentation. The Health Ministry committee decided to approve the experiments and is being criticized for going forward without consulting other bodies and without public debate on the controversial issue.

In Israel, the Health Ministry delegates decisions regarding new genetic research involving human beings to the Helsinki Committee for Genetic Experiments on Human Subjects. Professor Yosef Itzkovitz, director of the women’s ward in Rambam Hospital, made a request to the committee asking for approval for his experiments in cloning. The committee specifically wanted to know where the ova would come from for the research. “We decided to return the request so that he could make the amendments but in principle we decided there was no problem,” a committee member said.

An issue of growing concern in the cloning debate, is the origin of the human ova for the cloning method somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). The method involves removing the nucleus of an ovum and replacing it with the nucleus of a body (somatic) cell from another individual. Many critics of cloning have pointed out that, since the method only produces a small number of viable embryos from hundreds of attempts, a nearly unlimited supply of human “eggs” would be required for the research even to begin. Some bioethicists have gone so far as to suggest that women be required by law to donate their ova to advance disease research.

Health Minister Dan Naveh was surprised by the committee’s decision which was made without his knowledge and may call for it to be re-examined. Dr. Lia Etinger, a biologist and academic coordinator of the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership, has said, “The issue must be decided in discourse between scientists and doctors and public representatives. These things have many aspects that are not scientific but social.”

Criticism of the committee’s decision has also come from the Ombudsman for Future Generations in the Knesset. Retired judge Shlomo Shoham, called it “scandalous,” saying that a decision that affects “all of society” must be made with public scrutiny. Shoham vowed “to demand the relevant documents and protocols of the committee’s debates, and an explanation why they did not tell the public.” coverage:

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