Three weeks after France's parliament gave final approval to a law that approves stem cell research on human embryos for a limited test period, Japan has followed suit, with the Council for Science and Technology Policy voting on July 23 for recommendations that would permit the limited cloning of human embryos for scientific research.
The recommendations would enable Japanese researchers to use and produce cloned human embryos, but only for basic research, said Tomohiko Arai, an official at the Cabinet's Council for Science and Technology Policy. The embryos will not be used to treat human patients.
The Council, headed by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, is to ask Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology to draw up specific guidelines to regulate production and use of these cloned embryos, added Arai, who declined to speculate how long that might take.
The Council also approved the production of fertilized eggs for exclusive use in reproductive medicine.
The production of cloned human embryos has been banned in Japan since 2001 but researchers have been allowed to use human embryos not produced through cloning. The Council has recommended that only state-designated research institutes will take part in cloning research and that the state be responsible for examining whether or not production will take place.
"Cloned human embryos is a difficult but important issue to handle. I want the relevant government ministries and agencies to closely coordinate and address this," said Koizumi.
Many scientists back human embryo cloning to obtain stem cells that can be used to reproduce damaged tissues or organs. Stem cells are the building blocks from which all organs are formed.
Britain and South Korea allow therapeutic cloning, but the United States prohibits any kind of embryo cloning and has lobbied strongly against it.