By Hilary White

LONDON, October 21, 2008 ( – An amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill, put forward by the UK government, would allow tissue taken from people who lack the “mental capacity” to give consent to be used to create clones.

The warnings of pro-life campaigners were vindicated when it was revealed in the Daily Telegraph this weekend that under the amendment tissue for cloning may be removed from children, those in comas, or those with dementia who are incapable of understanding what is being proposed. The amendment also allows tissue previously donated for unrelated reasons by donors who can no longer be traced to be used to create clones.

According to the Telegraph the controversial amendment was agreed after the main parliamentary debates by an all-party committee of only 17 MPs.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) had predicted that presumed consent could be one of the many dangers of the government’s HFE bill. In a briefing on the bill, SPUC said the bill “weakens” the concept of consent in medical ethics and could result in tissue being taken from children or those who are unconscious and used to create embryos.
  The Telegraph quotes Professor David Jones, director of the Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies at St Mary’s University College, London, who said, “In May we had a public debate about whether or not it is a good thing to create hybrid embryos.

“Now it transpires that just weeks later, with no public debate at all, the Government inserted these amendments which cross a fundamental line in medical ethics by presuming consent in many cases. I think it is totally objectionable, and I really worry that this will create a backlash against medical research.”

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill will come to third reading and a vote on Wednesday night. Pro-life advocates have objected that the bill allows a host of unethical activities, including the creation of human/animal hybrid clones. Pro-life campaigners are urgently asking concerned Britons to contact their MPs and ask that the bill be defeated.

In May, SPUC pointed to an admission by the government, during the debate in the House of Lords, that the bill will allow cells that have been extracted in the past to be used to create cloned embryos. People who donated cells for research that had nothing to do with embryo cloning, could have embryos created using their DNA without their knowledge or consent. “This is a serious abuse of an individual’s genetic identity,” SPUC said. It means that “a precedent is being set to allow people to be cloned without their consent.”

Last January, Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, said that the proposals, put forward by Lord Patel, one of the country’s most vigorous campaigners for cloning and embryo experimentation, “do a great disservice to medicine.”

Patel’s suggestion, Tully said, could cause “enormous damage to public confidence in medical research and the probity of scientists.”

“It is deeply disturbing that any scientist of repute should suggest that people might be cloned without their knowledge or consent. It has never been suggested before that adults who donate tissue might be cloned without their consent. It is all the more disturbing that the suggestion applies retrospectively to tissue that may have been donated many years ago.

“This suggestion could lead to people being reluctant to donate blood, organs or other tissue, knowing that influential medical scientists might call for the principle of informed consent to be changed in retrospect.”

At that time, Patel’s proposed amendment was withdrawn, but SPUC warned that any ethical “reservations” on embryo research expressed by the government must be “treated with great scepticism,” a warning that now appears to have been well founded.

Use the SPUC website to contact your MP:

“They have repeatedly given way to the medical research lobby on proposals in the bill after first putting up a show of resistance,” concluded Mr. Tully.
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