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Scientist who cloned sheep: Cloning humans would be 'inhuman'


March 12, 1997
Web posted at: 11:11 p.m. EST (0411 GMT)

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The man who made the world's most famous sheep told a Senate panel Wednesday that human cloning should be banned.

In a series of appearances in Washington this week, soft-spoken Scottish scientist Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, is arguing that cloning technology can and should be controlled.

"I think now to contemplate using our present technique with humans would be quite inhuman," Wilmut said at a news conference before the hearings. (27 sec. /320K AIFF or WAV sound)icon


Wilmut calls for international guidelines

He urged lawmakers to work across national borders to draft guidelines, specifically a ban on human cloning.

"We would welcome any rules for an international agreement of any kind to prohibit this work. I think you shouldn't underestimate the difficulties of this research," Wilmut told the Senate Committee of Public Health and Safety.

Scientists and lawmakers discussed the social, legal and ethical implications of human cloning.

"Cloning of a human being is intuitively and properly viewed with almost uniform horror, because replication of a human by cloning would radically alter the very definition of what a human being is," said George Annas, of Boston University.

The possibility of cloning a human has been hotly debated since news emerged last month that Wilmut had managed to clone a sheep.

Harkin said he 'welcomes' human cloning

Wilmut, along with many other scientists, says such experiments are unethical. But one senator vigorously disagreed.

"Human cloning will take place, and it will take place in my lifetime," said Sen. Tom Harkin, and Iowa Democrat. "And I don't fear it at all -- I welcome it. I think it's right and proper that we continue this kind of inquiry."

Wilmut and other scientists say animal cloning has many potential uses, including new medicines, or possibly developing techniques to treat diseases, such as fixing defective cells and returning them to the patient.

But Wilmut told Harkin he draws the line at human cloning. (9 sec. /128K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

"I personally have still not heard a potential use of this technique, to produce a new person, that I would find ethically acceptable," Wilmut said. "...on that basis, I hope that you're wrong."

And he emphasized the technology was still new. Asked at the news conference what he felt was the most misunderstood point of his studies, Wilmut responded: "...the idea that you can bring somebody back."

Frist urges 'reasoned, rational' consideration

Legislators would work toward a bill that would not jeopardize research that "has the potential for saving millions of lives," said Sen. Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and chairman of the Committee of Public Health and Safety who also is a surgeon. (25 sec. / 288K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

Frist, who has performed numerous heart transplants, compared today's debate to the 1960s, when many believed heart transplants were unethical. (26 sec. / 288K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

"Now is the time for us as a country, as a nation, as a world, to address these [issues] in a systematic way -- not too hastily, but in a calm, reasoned, rational, balanced way," Frist said.

President Clinton has asked his Bioethics Advisory Committee to look into human cloning. He also has issued an administrative directive that no federal money be spent on human embryo research. Also, at least two bills have been introduced in Congress to ban human cloning research.

Correspondent Jeff Levine contributed to this report.


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