Many laws being introduced to ban human cloning, and some already on the statute books, have loopholes that might allow cloners to evade them. By Nell Boyce
Human cloning by nuclear transfer, the technique used to create Dolly, isn't even explicitly prohibited by Britain's 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, one of the world's most thorough attempts at regulating human reproduction. "The law bans all kinds of cloning except for the Dolly technique," says Barney Wyld, a spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in London. However, he adds that anyone wanting to clone a person would have to apply to the authority for permission--which would be refused.
In the US, legislators have tried to ban cloning at the state and federal levels. California has already passed an anti-cloning law and 21 other states are considering bans. Seven federal bills have been proposed in Congress.
Lori Andrews, an expert in the legal aspects of reproduction at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, says that recent technological advances may make much of that legislation obsolete. For example, at least 11 state bills and California's cloning ban prohibit cloning involving the replacement of a human egg's nucleus with that of another human cell. But researchers in Neal First's laboratory at the University of Wisconsin at Madison have already put the DNA of primates into cows' eggs that have gone on to develop into early embryos (This Week, 24 January, p 5). If the same technique can produce normal human embryos, then these laws could be circumvented.
Other loopholes are created by poor wording. At least eight state bills would prohibit the cloning of a genetically identical person, but Andrews notes that eggs carry mitochondrial DNA in their cytoplasm--so a clone created by nuclear transfer would not have identical DNA.
But even an airtight law could be challenged by Americans who might claim it infringes their constitutional right to reproduce. "There already is an infertile man who is thinking of challenging the California law," says Andrews.
>From New Scientist, 9 May 98
Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
"The science of nanotechnology, solutions for the future."