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Should India ban human cloning?

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New Delhi:

India entered the clone age having successfully cloned a buffalo earlier this month, this has raised concerns on whether India should indulge in cloning, is it morally and ethically correct to carry out animal or human cloning.

India currently has some well drawn out guidelines in place, but a suitable legislation that can regulate this area of research has been languishing for the last 3 years. In essence should humans start playing God!

India's cloning glory has been the buffalo lovingly named Garima; it is a darling of the scientists at the National Dairy Research Institute in Karnal, the country's first cloned animal.

But its birth has also raised many questions: Have Indians also started playing God? Are there regulations in place? Should human cloning be permitted?

In 1996, 'Dolly' the sheep was the first animal to be cloned in Scotland, since then many other animals have been cloned like mice, monkey and even a cat.

Garima the buffalo is just the newest addition. Most of the genetically identical animals unfortunately have been known to die young as they suffer from accelerated aging.

India permits cloning of animals, and encourages regulated research in this area. A lab in Hyderabad is already working to clone the Asiatic Cheetah which went extinct from India in the last century.

But what about cloning of humans? Till date nobody has succeeded in doing it and the world over it is considered a complete no-no. India has guidelines that prohibit any cloning of whole humans.

On an allied research subject, the government has no objections to the use of embryonic stem cells and does allow research on what is called therapeutic cloning, a technique that offers hope for organ replacement.

The LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad was the first to create eye tissues from stem cells to cure blindness, later the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi carried out trials for repairing damaged heart muscles using stem cells.

Are guidelines good enough? Is there a need to have a law that will regulate this burgeoning field of research?

In 2006, the Indian Council of Medical Research formulated some far-reaching guidelines on biomedical research. In 2007 another set of guidelines that regulate stem cell research were issued, this specifically bans cloning of humans.

But these are mere guidelines; they lack teeth as the enabling legislation has not been passed for the last three years, it is still gathering dust in the Ministry of Health.

So, as India lumbers into the clone age, the need is to be vigilant and to have effective laws in place so that this new biology can be suitably regulated.

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