Campaigners have expressed concerns over a government announcement that they plan to ban human cloning. On Thursday, Health Secretary Alan Milburn told health chiefs at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne, that the government plans to bring in legislation to prevent human cloning, in an effort to ease public fears about genetic research. Cloning work is currently restricted to those scientists granted licences. At the same time, he announced a multi million pound package to create four genetic 'knowledge parks'. He said these would encourage joint ventures between the health service, drug firms, research groups and regional development agencies. They would bid for money from a genetics knowledge 'challenge fund' to build on British advances in the field. Mr Milburn also promised extra investment to increase the numbers of specialist genetics consultants working in Britain, and fund their facilities and services. Dr Peter Garrett, research director for the pro-life campaign, LIFE, said the announcement was very misleading. He explained: "First, when Parliament agreed to allow so-called therapeutic cloning a few months ago, the Minister for Health categorically stated that full pregnancy ('reproductive') cloning was already unlawful. Now we are told that legislation is needed in order to ban it. "Second, far from becoming the first country to ban human cloning, we have become the first to legalise it for the purposes of destructive research procedures. Politicians are trying to make us believe that therapeutic cloning is not really cloning. But of course it is. It creates copies of born human beings who are allowed to live up to 14 days, when they are cannibalised in order to provide stem cells for research. Those human beings are to be produced with the deliberate intention of destroying them once their stem cells have been plundered. "Strictly speaking this procedure is reproductive because it produces human beings who are allowed to develop up to the embryonic stage. Dr Garrett said the UK now leads the rest of the world in human embryo research. He said: "No wonder Professor Antinori in Italy, who is working towards full pregnancy cloning, has publicly thanked Tony Blair for making this possible by steering the legalisation of human embryo cloning through the UK Parliament. We are setting a precedent for everyone else. "Far from being the first country to ban human cloning, as some claim, we have become the first to legalise it." Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "Mr Alan Milburn's announcement is a blatant attempt to obscure the Government's promotion of human cloning. He introduces secondary issues like life insurance and NHS staffing and speaks in vague terms of a 'genetic revolution' and 'genetic underclass'. It seems to be a desperate attempt to talk about everything but the ethics of creating cloned human beings in the laboratory. "The government clearly supports human cloning to generate embryos for spare-parts surgery, and 'reproductive cloning' which is already practised as part of genetic screening techniques licensed by the embryology authority. "It is clear from the Government's actions, if not from Mr Milburn's words, that the new legislation will neither stop the creation of cloned human embryos, nor give them proper protection once they have been created. Reports suggest it will reinforce the prejudice against clones by demanding that they are destroyed after they have been plundered for 'spare parts'. "There are a number of serious concerns we have over these proposals: Will the law require informed consent before a carbon copy of a person is generated? It is appalling to think that genetic copies of people could be generated without permission. However, such permission would be a double edged sword: if it were required it would create a 'right to be cloned' climate, with those unable to afford the technology demanding that the NHS pay for creating a 'spare parts duplicate' of them."
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