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  • Storm over Mexican cloning ban

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[MEXICO CITY] The Mexican parliament has approved a bill that would ban 'therapeutic' cloning — the creation of embryos to obtain stem cells to treat a variety of diseases.

Under the legislation, which is intended to outlaw all forms of human cloning, and was approved by the house of deputies earlier this month, cells "of embryos that are alive or obtained by nuclear transplant should not be the subject of human research".

The ban on therapeutic cloning is opposed by the country's leading scientific organisations, including the Mexican Academy of Sciences, one of a group of more than 60 science academies that issued a statement in September calling on the United Nations to reject calls for a global ban on such research (see Science bodies urge support for 'therapeutic cloning').

Antonio Velazquez, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) describes the ban as an unprecedented attack on the freedom of research in Mexico. "This is not a reasoned decision," says Ruy Perez Tamayo, president of the School of Bioethics. "It is motivated by Catholic ideology." 

But members of the conservative National Action Party, who voted for the ban, say that embryonic stem cells are not necessary for research, and that adult stem cells — which do not require the creation of cloned embryos — can be used instead.

The academy has been working since last year as a source of advice on scientific issues to the house of deputies. But the parliament rejected a motion by Salvador Martinez Della Rocca, a member of the parliamentary science and technology commission, to delay voting on the ban and convene a meeting with Mexican specialists in therapeutic cloning.

Francisco Bolivar Zapata, a researcher at UNAM and coordinator of a group of scientists that advises parliament on biosafety issues, says the parliament took a hasty — and incorrect — decision. "This ban puts the future of Mexican research in the area at risk," he says. "Research with embryonic cells has enormous potential."

Jose Antonio de la Peña, president of the Mexican Academy of Sciences, promises that the academy will work to lift the ban. "This is an error that I hope that it will be corrected by the deputies in the future", he says.

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