A human rights issue

In Europe, nations ban reproductive cloning, but allow research to continue

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The 45-member Council of Europe, the oldest multilateral political organization on the continent, outlawed "[a]ny intervention seeking to create a human being genetically identical to another human being" by amending its Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine.

The additional protocol to the treaty noted that such an action was necessitated by "scientific developments in the field of mammal cloning, particularly through embryo splitting and nuclear transfer."

Great Britain, whose biotech industry is the largest in Europe, is one of the many countries to adopt legislation on the issue. "The Human Reproductive Cloning Act," enacted in 2001, mandates up to 10 years of prison and an unlimited fine, if convicted of creating human clones. At the same time, the law allows research on cloning for therapeutic purposes with strict regulation. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority regulates embryo research in the country.

In the other continental biotech giant, Germany, all embryo research is banned.

Other Western European countries that prohibited reproductive cloning include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

"Issues of human genetics and bioethics in Europe have been widely accepted as human rights issues concerning human dignity and fundamental freedoms of the citizens," according to Emilia Ianeva, director of the Center for Human Rights at California State University, Hayward.

About half of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics in the Caucasus have ratified the Protocol on the Prohibition of Cloning Human Beings. "Notable non-signatories are Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Armenia and Azerbaijan, making them possible places of choice for companies that would like to do human genetic engineering, including cloning, shielded from legal regulations," Ianeva wrote in a paper published last year.

Russia, however, adopted a five-year moratorium on human reproductive cloning, which is in force until 2007. The Czech Republic, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia have also banned reproductive cloning and have ratified the protocol.

On the issue of research cloning, the political climate differs from country to country. While Switzerland is against creation of cloned embryos, and France has proposed a ban, Britain permits it.

Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly, recently told the British media that he would clone human embryos for research. The scientist's application will be the first submitted to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, according to news agency PA News. "He wants to study what goes wrong in the nerve cells of patients suffering from motor neuron disease," the agency reported.

Europe has the finest biotech infrastructure outside of the United States. There are 96 publicly traded biotech companies in Europe, compared to 314 in the United States, William Powlett Smith, who heads of Ernst & Young's U.K. Health Sciences Group, told the Center for Public Integrity. However, there are more private companies in Europe than in the United States, according to Smith.

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