LONDON — In Britain, where the first cloning of a sheep, Dolly, was accomplished last year, President Clinton's opposition to human cloning is finding little favor.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has refused to join with the US and other European states in ordering a ban on research into the genetic replication of human beings. Instead, he is awaiting the results of a study by a government-appointed agency. The report is expected in the next few weeks.
Mr. Blair's stance is getting strong support from leading British geneticists and fertility experts.
Lord Winston, director of the fertility unit at London's Hammersmith Hospital, has condemned Mr. Clinton's call for a five-year ban on cloning research as "a knee-jerk response."
Professor Winston expects the report to recommend that Britain seek a wide range of views from interested parties before deciding on an official line on cloning.
London now finds itself in a small minority on the issue. At a Jan. 12 meeting of the Council of Europe - an association of 21 democratic nations - only Britain and Germany refused to support an agreement prohibiting human cloning.
Britain claimed its own cloning legislation is already rock-solid. The Bonn government argued that the wording of the agreement was not strong enough.
But the Independent newspaper reported Jan. 11 that Britain would soon become the first country in the world to consider licensing experiments in human cloning.
The story cited a leaked official document that stated that if there was enough support for experiments in human cloning, then London could give the go-ahead for them next year.
The Independent's disclosure prompted senior medical figures in Britain to support consideration of possible applications of human cloning.
When asked if there could be benefits in cloning individual human beings, Winston said: "I think probably, yes. Science needs to be driven by the needs of society." He added: "Cloning human tissue could provide transplant material and assist research on aging, cancer, or any aspect of cell cycling."
Ian Wilmut, the Scottish embryologist who cloned Dolly the sheep, is firmly on the side of those who oppose doing the same with humans, calling it "unrealistic" and "irresponsible."