British scientists have been given the go-ahead to carry out research on cloned human embryos aimed at the treatment of diseases. Such research — which is likely to remain outlawed in most of the rest of Europe — could now begin in Britain before the end of the year.
On Monday, the House of Lords voted to approve the government's proposal that such research should be allowed under the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act. A similar vote was passed last month by the House of Commons (see Nature 409, 5; 2001), and scientists will be able to apply for licences for the research shortly.
The margin of the vote in the Lords —where the proposed amendment was approved by 212 votes to 92 — surprised observers who had anticipated a closer vote, particularly in the light of calls for caution from religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England.
Some critics appear to have been mollified by a Lords' plan to set up a committee to review the ethical issues that the research raises. The government has also promised to introduce “as soon as possible” a bill to ban reproductive cloning.
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