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Nation Needs Law to Prevent Cloning Misuse

Chinese lawmakers have called for legislation to prevent cloning abuse.

Lawmakers and political advisers attending the on-going Third Session of National People's Congress (NPC) said the application of therapeutic cloning - in which human embryos are cloned to obtain stem cells used in medical studies - should be strictly controlled to "ensure its healthy development."

"Science can be a double-edged sword, so there is always the need to guard against some immoral use of new technology," Zhang Zhongning, a Beijing NPC deputy, told China Daily.

"So we should prevent therapeutic cloning, which is a valid medical pursuit, from being employed for immoral purposes such as [human] reproduction."

The Chinese Government has given explicit backing to therapeutic cloning research within legal and ethical bounds for life-saving and medical purposes.

The Ministry of Science and Technology published the Ethical Guiding Principles for Stem Cell Research early last year, which promotes the banning of research on reproductive cloning. It also sought to introduce a code of conduct for stem cell studies. However, the country has yet to enact a specific law or regulation.

Zhang, a senior researcher with the Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, suggested the NPC, China's top legislature, uses all its power to ban reproductive cloning.

"Technically speaking, there is no clear line between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning, so we have to put related research under strict control through legislation," he said.

He added: "The law should make sure no scientists and researchers overstep the bounds of stem cell research."

Echoing Zhang's views, Chen Hanbin, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee, urged an immediate introduction of official regulation before a law is enacted.

"As the formulation of a law takes a long time, government administrations such as the Ministry of Health should move first to better regulate related research," he said.

"Therapeutic cloning research is such a solemn cause that it must be conducted in a very cautious way," he added.

China is one of the leading countries in stem cell research and most of its research institutes are located in Beijing and Shanghai.

To highlight the controversy, the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday approved a nonbinding resolution that seeks to ban all forms of human cloning.

The document, which has no legal force, passed by 84 to 34, with 37 abstentions.

The United States was joined by many African, Arab and Latin American states in backing the paper. Mostly European and Asian countries, including China, opposed.

Chen expressed his support for the Chinese stance, saying therapeutic cloning is imperative and should enjoy sufficient funding from the State. He said it will help ease the endless shortage of human organs for transplant operations, and is conducive to solving the difficult problem of immunologic rejection.

"Such a technique offers a hope for a cure to some 100 million people with such conditions as Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes and spinal cord injuries," he said.

"Whether for the sake of humanitarianism or for the aim of heeling the wounded and rescuing the dying, therapeutic cloning cannot be banned," added Chen, who is also a professor of Guiyang Medical College in southwest China's Guizhou Province.

(China Daily March 12, 2005)

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