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[BUENOS AIRES] The Argentinean government should permit the cloning of human embryos for research into the treatment of diseases — or 'therapeutic cloning' — but should continue to prohibit cloning for reproductive purposes, according to a top-level advisory committee on the ethics of science.

In a report released last month, the Committee of Ethics in Science and Technology calls on the government to overturn its current ban on all forms of human cloning, which was put in place in 1997 by then-president Carlos Menem.

"We consider that reproductive cloning — that is, the cloning of a human being — must not be allowed. It is not safe, biologically and technically", says biologist Alberto Kornblihtt, a member of the committee, which is made up of 10 leading Argentinean natural and social scientists. "Even if the technical problems are solved, reproductive cloning is unjustified from a medical and social point of view."

But he adds: "What we do support is the use of cloning to study remedies for fatal diseases." Many scientists say that the technique could help cure a range of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's.

In 2001, Argentina was one of a list of countries — including the United States — that proposed a resolution to the United Nations to outlaw all forms of human cloning. The United Nations was due to vote on the issue in 2003, but the decision was postponed for a year following failure to agree on whether therapeutic cloning should be included in the ban (see UN backs off rush vote on human cloning).

The committee, which was set up by the Argentinean secretary of science in 2001 to advise him on the ethics of science, suggests that President Néstor Kirchner should modify the country's position and withdraw its support for any UN ban that would outlaw therapeutic cloning.

The committee's report has no legal weight. But Kornblihtt says that its recommendations "follow the position taken by 63 science academies from all over the world, including the Argentinean National Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences, and the Human Genome Organisation" (see Science bodies urge support for 'therapeutic cloning').

Argentina has some expertise in cloning animals. In August 2002, a cloned calf, 'Pampita', was born in the country. And an Argentinean scientist, José Cibelli, was a close collaborator with the South Korean scientists that produced the first cloned human embryos in February.

The issue is a contentious one in the region as a whole. Earlier this year, Panama became the first Central American nation to approve therapeutic cloning, but the technique could be forbidden in Brazil if the senate approves a proposed law that is currently going through parliament.