Report on the Human Cloning Conference
On Friday the 9th of March 2001 a new chapter in human reproduction was opened. An International Cloning Consortium announced at the conference in Rome that they were now fully prepared to perform therapeutic human cloning. This medical treatment would be offered to infertile couples to allow them to have a child. The three core members of the international cloning consortium are Dr. Antinori (President of the Italian society for reproductive medicine), Dr. Panayiotis Zavos (American fertility specialist and andrologist) and Dr. Avi Ben Abraham (Israeli-American biotechnologist).
Predictably the Vatican have opposed the proposal calling it monstrous and "grotesque", but Antinori contended: "I am not a monster. Nor is what we are doing monstrous. My only aim is to give infertile couples happiness in the form of children. The next step is cloning, thatís all... Nothing should get in the way of a couples right to have a child... Religion must never get in the way of science."
"Cloning may be considered as the last frontier to overcome male sterility and give the possibility to infertile males to pass on their genetic pattern,'' Antinori told a packed auditorium of scientists and journalists. The consortium has in mind cases where the husband is sterile, and the wife refuses to be artificially inseminated with "a strangerís sperm". The described example is of a man who lost both testicles in a car crash, and whose wife "wants to reproduce the genes of the man she loves, not some other manís from a sperm bank". Dr. Zavos added "We don't want the government involved in this project... This is a high-tech, serious project and we're not going to bring in the technocrats if they are not needed... The genie is out of the bottle. We need to make sure it is bottled and disseminated responsibly,''
2. Quick Facts:
How does cloning occur?
Cloning involves removing the DNA from a mothers egg and injected the DNA from one of the fathers (or mothers) body cells (e.g. a skin cell). The cloning technique is called nuclear transfer, and is very similar to ICSI (intra cytoplasmic sperm injection) a procedure members of consortium have performed numerous times.
Why would people wish to clone?
Cloning allows an infertile man to have a genetically related child. The International Cloning Consortium has over 600 infertile couples begging for their help.
When was the first mammal cloned?
The first cloned mammal was Dolly the sheep, cloned in 1996 by Ian Wilmut.
Who's researching reproductive human cloning?
Dr. Antinori and Dr. Zavos are heading an international consortium to clone children for infertile couples.
Where is cloning legal?
Nearly everywhere. It's illegal in Germany, Japan, France and a handful of other countries. It is legal in over 170 countries and over 45 American states.
Is a clone identical to the father?
Genetically the child will be identical to the father, but the child's personality would be predominantly dictated by environmental factors. The child would obviously not have the donors memories, and the offspring would be (by definition) just a baby, not a fully grown adult (a common mis-conception of cloning). In summary, no, the cloned child would not be "identical" to the father, he would be an individual, much as identical twins are individuals.
What problems have been suggested, and are they valid?
1. It's not efficient or safe.
(1). With new technological advances and screening techniques it is much safer and efficient, and improvements will continue to occur.
2. It's unacceptable to various religions.
(2). Different religions believe different things, the Catholic's faith should no more influence scientific policy than Satanism, Raelism, Masochism or any other religious belief.
3. It's unethical and immoral.
(3). Many of the ethical objections are ludicrous, and border on offensive as they apply to identical twins just as much as they apply to cloned children. For an in-depth look at the morals of human cloning please visit the Human Cloning Foundation (www.HumanCloning.org).
4. Reproductive human cloning is "evil" (the Vatican).
(4). Reproductive human cloning is not "evil", it is about reproductive freedom and informed choice. About infertile couples having a family they would not otherwise have been able to have.
3. Report on the conference
The Human Therapeutic Cloning conference took place in the Institute of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The international cloning consortium have announced that they are now fully prepared to begin their Human Cloning project. They have the funding, location and expertise necessary. Dr. Severino Antinori (who heads the consortium) explained that the group had secured almost "unlimited" private funds. In fact Dr. Antinori is himself a millionaire, directly due to the three infertility clinics he owns in Italy. The location for the project is a Mediterranean country; undisclosed for security reasons. Both Zavos and Antinori have a wealth of experience in human reproductive science and technology. Zavos having performed in vitro fertilization for over 23 years. It was speculated at the conference that the undisclosed Mediterranean country was Israel, but this was neither confirmed or denied by the consortium. The scientists intend to take an adult body cell from the infertile father (who can't produce sperm), and inject the nucleus into his wife's egg that has been enucleated (had it's chromosomes removed). This zygotic cell will divide and differentiate into an embryo that can be implanted in the mother, resulting in a child genetically identical to the father. Much like a latter born identical twin. The first experiments to lay a safe and efficient groundwork for the cloning program, will begin about April. The first healthy cloned embryo should be ready for implantation into a mothers womb within one and a half to two years. The consortium will not clone dead children or famous people. This controversial service is only being offered by the Raelian's company 'Clonaid'. The opposition to reproductive human cloning made numerous references to the low rate of cloning efficiency and possible developmental abnormalities that may result. Dr. Zavos dispelled this theory by explaining that, unlike animal cloning programs, the International Cloning Consortium would not be implanting scores of embryos into many surrogate mothers to obtain as many pregnancies as possible. His twenty-three years of human in vitro fertilization research has laid the foundations for a more sophisticated approach. This involved genetic screening of embryos at a very early stage (a procedure not undertaken in animal cloning) and only implanting normal healthy embryos. Screening would obviously cost more, but this would be the only ethical approach when using this technology in humans.
The Catholic church was typically negative. The usual misconceptions were aired with Monsignor Mauro Cozzoli, from the Vatican Bioethics Commission saying "every child must be born with his or her genetic individuality - they should not simply be a photocopy"; a rather strange statement suggesting that identical twins were against Vatican policy. Antinori hit back saying "Cloning creates ordinary children, they would be unique individuals, not photocopies...". LIFE, the anti-abortion charity, was theoretically against the plans, but said they were "inevitable". Even the Catholic Bishops, usually steadfast in their condemnation of reproductive human cloning, had an air of inevitability about them. Bishop Elio Sgreccia, head of the John Paul II Institute for Bioethics at Rome's Gemelli hospital, said that "The forecasts [about human cloning] sadden us but don't scare us", which is as close to a step forward as one can expect from orthodox Christian fundamentalists. Another opposition voice came from Lord Winston, who dismissed the consortium intentions as a "publicity stunt", and that they didn't have "any serious intentions" of undertaking the project. The fact that Dr. Zavos has left the University of Kentucky to begin working on the project would suggest otherwise.
Supporters of the consortiums proposal include Professor G. Pence, who has written a book in support of human cloning, M. Eibert, an attorney who advocates the rights of infertile couples to use cloning technology to have children, and R. H. Wicker the CEO of the Charity organization, the Human Cloning Foundation (www.HumanCloning.org). Despite the media's attempt to portray a unified front against reproductive human cloning, a CNN poll (cast on the 10th of March) of over 10,000 on-line voters, found that over a third of the population supported reproductive human cloning. A remarkable achievement considering the consistent bad publicity cloning has received from Hollywood and the Media.
During the conference, Dr. Richard Seed (heading a rival cloning initiative) re-iterated his human cloning intentions. There are now three groups publicly researching reproductive human cloning: the Antinori/Zavos consortium, Prof. R. Seeds initiative and the Raelians company "Clonaid". The Human Cloning Foundation only supports the Antinori/Zavos lead International Cloning Consortium, which is the only group with the resources and experience to ensure that the procedures are conducted safely and efficiently. The last thing any member of the HCF want, is for the first cloned baby to be unhealthy or physically abnormal.
The conference, and the surrounding publicity, provided an excellent platform for raising the public's awareness of the true meaning of therapeutic human cloning: Reproductive freedom, informed choice, and the only route by which certain infertile couples can have a child. The non-religious factions of the opposition have once again rallied against this novel infertility technology in an attempt to be politically correct, and to avoid a public backlash against other areas of science. The potential backlash against other forms of biological research is not a justification for condemning infertile couples to remain childless, but rather, a clear indication of the level of ignorance, unreasonable thought and hysteria present in society today. The media have mis-interpreted, hyped and plain face lied about human cloning in order to win the ratings war. Most of the media reports following the conference did not provide a balanced account of the costs and benefits of human cloning, but set out deliberately to sway public against this novel technology. A technology that would allow infertile couples to have a genetically related child. A technology that would allow these couples to have the family they so desire.
"The genie is out of the bottle. We need to make sure it is bottled and disseminated responsibly,''
(Dr. P. Zavos, 9th March 2001)
4. Press release for the conference
International Workshop on: "Human Therapeutic Cloning"
Sponsored by the University "La Sapienza", Rome, Italy & Italian Society for Reproductive Medicine S.I.M.R.
March 9th 2001 - Time 10 am
Location: Policlinico Umberto - Rome
Aula Istituto Clinica Ostetrica E Ginecologica
SESSION CHAIRMEN: L. ZICHELLA & C. ARAGONA
INTRODUCTION OF SPEAKERS: L. ZICHELLA
L. FRATI (ITALY)
S. ANTINORI (1TALY)
W. FEICHTINGER (AUSTRIA)
K. ILLMENSEE (AUSTRIA)
M. LEVANDUSKY (U.S.A.)
P. ZAVOS (U.S.A.)
A. BARBARO (ITALY)
ORGANIZATING SECRETARIAT: PHONE: 39-06-689-6655 or 39-06-687-3095
FAX: 39-06-680-4549 or 39-06-321-4385
Dr. Antinori's International associated research center for human reproduction.
Professor Zavos's Andrology Institute of America
Human Cloning Foundation Mission Statement
Report written on March 10, 2001 by R. Moorgate
© 2001. The Human Cloning Foundation (www.HumanCloning.org)
Copyright © 2001/2002. All rights reserved.