Scientists Tell NAS They Will Proceed with Human Cloning
Three researchers "vowed" yesterday at a National Academy of Sciences symposium on cloning to "press ahead with separate efforts to create the first cloned human being," despite scientific experts' warnings that such experiments would "inevitably" lead to miscarriage, stillborns, deformities and genetic disorders in children, the New York Times reports (Stolberg, New York Times, 8/8). The National Academy of Sciences, which advises Congress on scientific issues, has convened a panel of experts charged with issuing a report to the federal government on the safety of human cloning by the end of September. The "unusually fractious scientific meeting ... verged on the chaotic" as Dr. Severino Antinori of the International Associated Research Institute in Italy, Dr. Panos Zavos, director of the Andrology Institute of America in Lexington, Ky., and Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, scientific director of Clonaid, a private company affiliated with the Raelian sect, debated with other scientists over the issue. Antinori and Zavos said that they will use cloning to help infertile couples have children and told the panel that they have already recruited hundreds of couples to participate in cloning experiments beginning in November in Europe (Regalado/McGinley, Wall Street Journal, 8/8). "We plan to probably transfer the first healthy cloned embryos in 2002 and maybe at the end of 2002 we will have the first baby born," Zavos said, noting that the embryos would be closely screened for genetic defects and "not be transferred until they can withstand the scrutiny that we will apply." Boisselier said that she too would screen embryos before proceeding with their development, noting that she had developed a way to test the health of 10 genes in cloned, nonhuman embryos (Zitner, Los Angeles Times, 8/8).
But animal cloning experts countered that there was no way to test a cloned embryo in advance to determine its ultimate health (New York Times, 8/8). Dr. Ian Wilmut, director of the Scottish institute that created the first cloned sheep, said that despite producing some healthy animals, cloning results in mistakes and deformities that would be considered "inhumane in humans." Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology stated, "Even apparently normal clones can have genetic instability too subtle to detect." But Antinori and Zavos "criticized" the cloning techniques previously used by scientists, calling their work "poorly designed" and "poorly executed." Zavos said, "I believe we have enough information today to proceed with human cloning" (Friend, USA Today, 8/8). Antinori noted that his cloning practice would be restricted, available only to couples unable to conceive because the male is infertile, and would exclude single women, couples whose child has died and childless couples who "waited until a late age before requesting help."
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Regarding the vote by the U.S. House of Representatives last week to ban human cloning for both reproductive and research purposes, Antinori said that the decision was taking the United States back "into the Dark Ages" (Cooper, Washington Post, 8/8). Boisselier said that cloning would proceed despite government efforts to bar it because there is a "huge demand" for the service (Los Angeles Times, 8/8). With market forces driving the science, she said, "If there are hopes, and if there is a technology, then it will be done." Boisselier's cloning plans were investigated by the FDA this spring, and she was required to agree not to undertake human cloning research in the United States. Clonaid currently works out of the Bahamas (Wall Street Journal, 8/8).