The City DebateCloning - Hopes and Fears

The City Debate led by Sir Colin Campbell

Genetics is accelerating at an unmatched pace, with huge promise of understanding of disease and change to all medical research and clinical care in the next five to ten years.
Sir Colin Campbell, Vice-Chancellor, Nottingham University, and Chairman of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission

The statement captures the fascinating tone and content of the recent, well attended City Debate at St Peter's Church on 20th May 1998. Sir Colin immediately stated his belief that the Human Genetics Advisory Commission (HGAC) should consult, listen to public hopes and fears, and explain its work, rather than make decisions in private. The HGAC is an unpaid, independent advisory body, whose aims are to inform discussion and encourage open, informed debate.

The Commission gave early consideration to the implications of genetic testing for insurance provision, particularly its potential to create new areas of discrimination against people deemed to have high genetic risk of ill health or reduced life expectancy.

Public imagination and press attention has been caught by the cloning of "Dolly" the sheep, but headline emotion was given perspective in the debate, by a clear outline of current research directions. Key points to emerge included assurance that human reproductive cloning - attempts to produce identical babies or foetuses - is illegal in the UK ("Why would anyone want to clone themselves? There is already another way..."), animal cloning techniques involve repeated failures (276 attempts before Dolly), and it is therapeutic cloning - for example of tissue, cartilage, skin - which has greatest potential.

Questions from the audience were passionate and intense, evidence of the interest and concern which the debate stirs. Genetic research including cloning is not going to stop, and Sir Colin correctly suggested that it helps to understand the issues and the scientific processes driving them, which have significant implications for human identity, and raises questions of the ethics of science, and idea that some variations from natural processes may be acceptable (for example in vitro fertilisation), while others such as some cloning techniques may not. This debate, as with others in the series, provides more questions than answers, and will doubtless continue.

Further information may be obtained from the HGAC Secretariat at:

Office of Science and Technology, Albany House, 94-98 Petty France, LONDON SW1H 9ST
Telephone: 0171 271 2131
E-mail: chris dot hepworth at osct dot dti dot gov dot uk

Roger Cowell
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th May 1998