TOKYO--Japan is preparing to outlaw human cloning by making it a crime that may result in prison sentences. A new bill, outlined recently by the Science and Technology Agency (STA) for members of the Diet, Japan's parliament, would ban implanting into a human or animal womb any of the following: cloned human embryos; hybrid embryos, in which a human egg cell has been fertilized with animal sperm or vice versa; and chimeras, embryos that have both human and animal cells.
Violators of the new ban would face prison terms of yet-to-be-determined length--a first for Japanese science regulation. Typically, research activities here are governed by informal guidelines backed up by bureaucratic warnings. But for cloning, stiff penalties are needed, says an STA official, because of the serious nature of the issue and to reflect "the public's overwhelming opposition to human cloning."
Some researchers had been concerned that a ban on human cloning might hinder cloning research in general. But the narrow wording of the draft--focused on implanting rather than creating clones--and previously released guidelines that encourage human stem cell research have allayed such fears. "[Cloning] could possibly soon be applied to humans," says Yukio Tsunoda, a molecular biologist at Kinki University, Nara, who pioneered the cloning of cattle, "so I personally think we need such a law."
The law will be submitted to the Diet within the next 2 to 3 months. An STA official says it should pass easily.