May 26, 2024

Lax regulation lets Israeli scientists clone away

Israel will be left in the dust in the biotechnology race unless researchers are given free rein in embryo research, scientists have told their government. Unlike most developed countries, Israel’s regulations in this area are very lax. There are no monitoring mechanisms for cloning embryos and creating human embryonic stem cells and little oversight of research.

Some Israeli doctors are used to working on the ethical edge. Back in 1998 Israeli embryos were exported to the University of Wisconsin where James Thomson used them to create the first human embryonic stem cells. In recent years Israeli IVF doctors have dabbled in cytoplasmic transfer, creating embryos with three genetic parents; they have matured follicles from aborted girls and developed them into mature eggs; they have used pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to screen embryos for infertility and deafness. According to a report by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, “all this research has been carried out without any public debate… In fact, the entire decision-making process is limited to a few individual researchers that take part in these committees.”

Israel allows therapeutic cloning, but there are restrictions on the availability of human eggs. Now scientists are lobbying the government for permission to purchase eggs for research. Otherwise, they argue, Israel will be left behind in biomedical research.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, reproductive cloning is not altogether taboo in Israel. In fact, a report by a bioethics committee of the Academy of Sciences and Humanities depicts it as a possible solution for infertility. However, in 1999 the government did impose a five-year moratorium on reproductive cloning and renewed it in 2004.