Scientists blast human cloning plans
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Scientists at a contentious meeting at the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday blasted researchers who say they plan to begin attempts to clone a human being within the year.
The conference exposed a deep, bitter rift among scientists over the issue, with researchers trading unusually harsh comments Tuesday.
Panos Zavos, a Kentucky-based infertility expert, and Italian researcher Severino Antinori, who helped a 62-year-old woman become pregnant in 1994, outlined plans to impregnate up to 200 women from infertile couples with cloned embryos in hopes that at least a few of the women will carry a child to term.
"We will get there, because very simply it's a matter of determination. And I think we are determined to get there," Zavos said.
Their proposal had already sparked criticism within the scientific community and from politicians who warn about the ethical implications of scientists creating human life in a laboratory.
Zavos said he hopes to transfer the nucleus of a cell containing a male or female genetic blueprint into a woman's egg for the purpose of establishing an embryo. That embryo would then be transferred into a woman's uterus to establish a pregnancy.
The most successful attempts at cloning have been with sheep, cattle and mice. Zavos said the very nature of science is experimentation, and failure would inevitably be part of the cloning process.
"You know, there's nothing out there that's 100 percent, ladies and gentlemen," he said. "And, you know, this world is loaded with imperfections."
But scientists who have been involved in animal cloning experiments warned that most cloned animals suffer from severe birth defects or die, and they said human clones could suffer the same fate.
"Practice, it is said, makes perfect. But is it ethical to practice? And I absolutely think it is not, in the human context," said Alan Colman, a researcher for Scotland's PPL Therapeutics.
Zavos and Antinori bristled at that kind of criticism Tuesday, telling a colleague at one point, "I am not going to allow you to lecture to me."
"They may be calling us mad scientists, which of course we're not, but this is very important," Zavos said during a heated exchange with a colleague.
Zavos and Antinori say there will be no more chance of a deformed child than through ordinary reproduction. They say they have 200 couples from "all over" -- the United States, Britain, France, Italy and Japan -- willing to participate in their experiments. Zavos said cloning provides their only hope for having a child.
"Additional screening methodologies will be developed in order for us to be able to screen the tissue culture cells, the reprogramming process, and the pre-implantation embryos and post-implantation embryos and fetuses in order for us to yield a normal, healthy child," Zavos said.
But Ian Wilmut, whose research led to the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1997, said screening attempts like the ones Zavos promised won't work.
"It is not possible to think of a way of screening out effectively the most appropriate embryos, and hence, what we should expect would be late abortions -- either occurring spontaneously or being induced deliberately in the second or third trimester of pregnancy -- in order to prevent the birth of abnormal children," Wilmut said.
Also discussing plans to clone a human was Brigitte Boisselier, research director of Clonaid -- a group linked to the Raelian Movement, which posits that human life is the result of extraterrestrial genetic experiments.
"I hope it's done properly in a very safe way," Boisselier said. "I'm doing it in the hopes that I can publish that very soon and share this with you."
Zavos and Antinori have not disclosed where they will conduct their research, only that it will not be conducted in the United States. Two dozen countries ban human cloning, and a U.S. ban on the procedure is working its way through Congress with White House support.
On Tuesday, President Bush reiterated his opposition to human cloning.
"As you know I supported the anti-cloning legislation in the Congress," Bush told reporters as he vacationed in Texas. "And I'll be making a statement about my views on how life and science should interface when I'm ready."
Anti-abortion groups are outraged by the cloning plans, and Antinori has said he may be forced to work in a remote country or even on board a ship moored in international waters.
Washington's human cloning conference opened Tuesday to discuss the scientific, medical and ethical issues involved in human cloning.
Britain's House of Lords voted earlier this year to legalize only the cloning of human embryos for therapeutic, or research purposes, a move praised by Antinori. But the Vatican holds that no human being should be denied the fundamental right to be conceived and born the natural way, and it called human cloning "grotesque."
But cloning would produce "ordinary children," Antinori said. "They will be unique individuals, not photocopies of individuals."
CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.
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