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Health Minister Dan Naveh intends to hold a special debate on human cloning during the week, following the report in Haaretz on Friday that the ministry gave the go ahead to cloning human embryos for scientific research.

Naveh was surprised to discover that Health Ministry officials approved embryonic cloning in principle, without his or the ministry management's knowledge, say ministry sources.

The decision was made by the Helsinki Committee for Genetic Experiments on Human Subjects, whose members include ministry representatives, without consulting other bodies or holding a public debate.

Naveh may have the decision reexamined.

The reactions to the report were mixed. "Such decisions must not be left to scientists alone, as they are in Israel," said Dr. Lia Etinger, a biologist and academic coordinator of the Heschel Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership.

"The issue must be decided in discourse between scientists and doctors and public representatives. These things have many aspects that are not scientific but social," she said.

Etinger says cloning is developing a technology that will probably increase health and social gaps. It will lead to taking advantage of the weakest, i.e. poor women, who will sell their eggs in order to make a living, while those enjoying the results will be a small elite who can afford to pay the high sums required for using the technology.

Science Minister Eliezer Sandberg said the Helsinki Committee's approval to hold embryonic experiments is in keeping with the law. "Scientific research cannot and must not be stopped, especially when it can save lives, but must be supervised," he said.

Chair of the Knesset's Science Committee, MK Melli Polishuk-Bloch, said she did not object to research that advances medicine, but added that the decision raises unease.

"The Health Ministry has not defined the use of eggs by legislation. It is absurd that the law dealing with animal experiments is more thorough about what is, and what is not, permitted, than the law dealing with human experiments," she said.