Human cloners to challenge "illogical fear"
By Emma Young Scientists who plan to clone humans as a “fertility treatment” for childless couples will present their case to the US National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday. The NAS is compiling a report on the issue. Italian fertility specialist Severino Antinori and his US colleague Panos Zavos have announced plans to “treat” 200 infertile couples, starting in November 2001. They are expected to tell the panel of scientists that the public has an “illogical fear” of cloning. “For me, it’s an illogical fear because, in reality, it’s just therapeutic cloning for millions of men in the world to become fathers,” Antinori said. The meeting “is a good opportunity to explain. The public will understand and will change their opinion to positive.” Antinori will be joined by Brigitte Boisselier, a reproductive scientist and member of the Raelian cult, which believes human cloning is necessary for “eternal life”. The NAS panel will also hear from scientists who want to use therapeutic cloning to provide a source of embryonic stem cells for treating injury and disease. The NAS says it will produce the report on its investigations by the end of 2001. In March 2001, the Council of Europe introduced a convention prohibiting reproductive cloning. On 1 August, the US House of Representatives voted to ban all forms of cloning, but the bill must also be passed by the Senate to become law. Italy’s national medical council has already begun a disciplinary procedure against Antinori for his proposals to clone humans, and says he risks losing his licence to practise medicine in Italy. Both Antinori and the Raelians say they will carry out cloning in countries where reproductive cloning is not illegal. The Vatican has described Antinori’s proposals as “grotesque”. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was quoted in Italian newspapers on 7 August as saying Antinori is trying to “emulate Hitler”. Copying children is “Nazi madness”, he said. Most fertility experts condemn reproductive cloning on scientific, as well as ethical, grounds. In June, the UK’s Royal Society produced a report recommending a worldwide ban on the practice. “Our experience with animals suggests there would be a very real danger of creating seriously handicapped individuals if anyone tries to implant cloned embryos into the womb,” said Richard Gardner of Oxford University, who chaired the Royal Society panel. But US animal cloning company Infigen says it rejects arguments against human cloning only on legal, moral and ethical grounds. In a statement issued on 7 August, it said that 77 per cent of the sheep, pig and cow clones born in its laboratories remain “healthy, viable and productive”. However, Harry Griffin of the Roslin Institute in Scotland, which created Dolly the sheep, told New Scientist: “There is evidence of healthy clones,