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The science committee will hold an urgent discussion on cloning technology

This, after American scientists cloned a human embryo; The committee will discuss the need to define the type of experiments permitted in cloning and stem cell research; According to the current law, cloning is prohibited as an alternative fertilization method

By: Tamara Traubman, Haaretz

The Knesset's science committee will hold an urgent discussion tomorrow regarding the consequences and risks of cloning technology. The discussion was initiated by the chairman of the committee, MK Anat Maor (Maretz), after it was learned yesterday that American scientists tried to clone a human embryo.

Maor will raise the question in the discussion, if there is a need to apply laws or regulations that will define the type of experiments allowed and prohibited in cloning research and stem cell research. Stem cells are cells that can be extracted from embryos, and implanted in the body of patients who need new tissues.

Maor pointed out that the "Cloning Law", approved by the Knesset in 1998, explicitly prohibits the use of cloning as an alternative fertilization method. However, the law does not directly address the question of whether it is permissible to use cloning as a medical measure. In this type of cloning, known as "therapeutic cloning", an embryo is cloned and grown in the laboratory, until the stage where stem cells can be extracted from it to be used to cure patients.
At this stage the embryo is 5-6 days old, and looks like a microscopic ball of about 200-100 cells. After the stem cells are extracted, the embryo is destroyed.

To answer the moral questions associated with cloning and embryonic stem cells, the Ministry of Science initiated the establishment of a national committee for bioethics. The committee is expected to begin its work next month, after the government approves its operating powers.

According to Prof. Hagit Maser-Yeron, chairman of the committee's preparation team and chief scientist at the Ministry of Science, the committee is supposed to determine what the state's policy is regarding cloning and stem cell research. According to her, today, in fact, there is no clear policy, and the researchers at the hospitals and universities act according to the approvals received from the institutions' internal committees.

In recent months, the "Helsinki Committee for Genetic Experiments on Humans" - a committee of the Ministry of Health that is supposed to supervise genetic experiments - has also begun to discuss the issue of stem cells. According to the ministry, the committee is at the beginning of its deliberations.

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