Human cloning sparks fierce debate
The doctors behind the project to produce the world's first human clone have sparked an intense debate about the ethics of their work. At a meeting of scientific experts in Washington, US, Dr Panos Zavos and Dr Severino Antinori said they were ready to go ahead at two secret locations "within 30 to 60 days", and had 200 couples as volunteers.
Their intentions, outlined before a joint panel of the National Academies, have been widely condemned. So have those of a UFO group, whose lead scientist told the meeting she had already begun some human cloning experiments.
"The demand is huge, the demand is there and this will be done," Dr Brigitte Boisselier said. "And I hope it's done in a very safe way. I'm doing it and I hope that I can publish that very soon and share that with you all."
'Abnormal children' - The general reaction, particularly from mainstream scientists who have pioneered the cloning of animals, was that the technology was simply not developed enough to be applied safely in humans.
"Animal cloning is inefficient in all species," said Professor Ian Wilmut, the man who led the team that created Dolly the sheep clone. The UK researcher added: "Expect the same outcome in humans as in other species: late abortions, dead children and surviving but abnormal children."
And across the globe, similar sentiments could be found. In Moscow, Vladimir Ivanov, head of the medical and genetic scientific centre at the Russian Academy of Medical Science, said that "this escapade is like a dangerous game whose aim is sensationalist; it meets no real medical need".
'No consequences' - Certainly, the three would-be cloners attracted massive publicity. Their every move in Washington on Tuesday was recorded by the TV cameras. "We hope that in November we will begin to do the nuclear transfer, which in actuality is a transfer of the nucleus of... a body cell into the egg of a woman for the purpose of establishing an embryo," Dr Panos Zavos told CNN television. "That embryo will be transferred into the uterus to establish a pregnancy."
And in a crushed corridor outside the NA meeting, he told the BBC: "We are going to begin doing human reproductive human cloning in probably 30 to 60 days from now." Whatever the consequences? "There are not going to be any consequences. We think we can have as high a success rate as IVF, which is about 30% in the US right now." This confidence is not shared by the doctors' peers, but mainstream science fears lax laws and regulation will allow Drs Zavos, Antinori and Boisselier to pursue their stated goals anyway.
System of regulation - "It is inappropriate to do reproductive cloning at this time - it's unsafe and its risks are unjustified," said Alta Charo, a professor of law and medical ethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "They could be avoided by good medical research. The problem in the United States is we don't have a good system for regulating medical research."
And Richard Doerflinger, of the US National Conference of Catholic Bishops picked up the issue of regulation: "The announcements today at the National Academy of Sciences by people who are just going to pursue human cloning, unless somebody stops them, are an example of why the law needs to step in," he said.
'Dark ages' - "The medical and science professionals are not going to police themselves. And, I think everybody agrees, that trying to make children by cloning at this point is a completely irresponsible experiment involving human subjects." But Dr Antinori rejected what he called "illogical fears" and urged the US president and congressmen not to proceed with a bill banning cloning. "I want to remember to Mister President Bush - if the law against the cloning is approved, it will be the return to the dark ages, like Afghanistan, like the Taliban, in Iran. "For that, the austerity, the public opinion... it is a buzz generating wrong information."
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