Scientists are to be permitted to use tissue from dead people to create cloned human stem cells for research, under a legal change put forward by the government.
Health ministers have proposed that laboratories should be allowed to use stored human tissue to create cloned embryonic stem cells without the explicit consent of the tissue donor. This would allow research to be done on tissue donated for medical research as long as 30 years ago. Scientists would also be able to use cells from people who have died since they donated their tissue or who cannot be contacted.
Many laboratories have banks of stored tissue which act as DNA libraries that can play a vital role in finding cures for serious disorders such as diabetes and motor neurone disease.
Ministers have until now insisted that scientists contact tissue donors to gain explicit consent before DNA can be used to create cloned embryonic stem cells.
Leading scientists, including three Nobel prize winners, say gaining such consent is sometimes impossible because the donors have died, donated anonymously or cannot be contacted. They say the ban on using DNA without consent could hold up vital research.