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SCIENCE: WHO Condemns Human Cloning

Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Mar 11 1997 (IPS) - The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers the use of cloning for the replication of human individuals to be ethically unacceptable.

WHO Director General Hiroshi Nakajima said Tuesday that human cloning “would violate some of the basic principles which govern medically assisted procreation,” including respect for the dignity of the human being and protection of the security of human genetic material.

But Nakajima also cautioned that “opposition to human cloning should not lead to an indiscriminate ban on all cloning procedures and research.”

The WHO’s condemnation of human cloning came in response to the startling announcement that an adult sheep had been succesfully cloned by a team of embryologists in Scotland. The international health body underlined the “great concern in all sectors of society in all cultures” triggered by Dolly, the cloned sheep.

It is necessary “to try and clarify the issue so that a reasonable assessment can be made of the implications of this research,” said Nakajima.

He pointed out that in 1992 the Special Programme of Research, Development and Research Training in Human Reproduction (HRP) convened a scientific group to review the technical aspects of medically assisted procreation and related ethical issues.

The group upheld “the right of everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications” as well as the need “to respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity.”

But the scientists also stressed that there is “a universal consensus on the need to prohibit extreme forms of experimentation, such as human cloning, inter-species fertilization, the creation of chimeras and, at present, alteration of the germ-cell genome.”

The WHO would like to see such guiding principles serve as a starting point for the public debate needed at both a national and international level towards the setting of indispensable norms and limits, said Nakajima.

The cloning of human cell lines is a routine procedure in the production of monoclonal antibodies for diagnosis and research on diseases such as cancer. Animal cloning also offers opportunities to advance biomedical research on diagnosis and teatment of diseases affecting human beings.

The WHO admitted that animal and inter-species cloning can provide beneifts, but warned of the need to be alert to “possible negative consequences, like the risk of the transmission of diseases to human beings across the species barrier.”

The WHO underlined that the necessary precautions must be taken in all cases, and technical and ethical guidelines followed to guarantee total protection of the health and dignity of the human being. It called for an ongoing, public debate among all sectors and institutions involved, which must take into account the different social, economic and cultural settings.

That debate should centre on the ethical aspects of health research and technologies. The WHO will lead the way with discussion on two key issues: reproductive health and biomedical applications of human genome research.

Nakajima announced that the Programme of Human Reproduction’s Scientific and Ethical Research Group would study the question of cloning at its next meeting, scheduled for Apr. 23-25.

In the meantime, the WHO plans to organise a series of national and regional meetings to work towards common codes of conduct, guidelines and legislation. The first will take place in early April in Bangkok.

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