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This is a transcript of AM broadcast at 0800 AEST on local radio.

Human cloning attempts begin

AM - Saturday, March  10, 2001  8:10

COMPERE: A team of Italian-based researchers led by a controversial fertility specialist says it’s about to begin attempts to clone the first human being. The team says its work will only be used to help infertile couples, and it claims it has 600 couples, including some from Australia, willing to take part. The group says it’s working full speed to produce a human clone within two years. It says it has a moral responsibility to proceed with the work.

But as Michael Brissenden reports from Rome, the research has been condemned by the Church and by many other medical professionals.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: They’ve been making history in Rome for thousands of years. And now an international team of genetic specialists are ensuring that ancient capital will have a significant place in modern history as well.

PANOS ZAVOS: We do intend to obviously clone the first human being.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Panos Zavos, a Greek-American doctor, is part of the team lead by the controversial Italian fertility specialist Severino Antonori. Dr Avri ben Abraham from Israel is another.

AVRI BEN ABRAHAM: Science must be daring and it must be innovative. Human therapeutic cloning has now moved from the shadows into the forefront. We have enough knowledge, enough sophistication and advancement in science and technology to break the rules of nature. Now is the time. We are going to do it. And it’s a joint effort.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: From the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep, such a move was just a matter of time. The research team says this is just the next logical development of medical technology to help infertile couples who want to have children and to help those with currently incurable diseases.

The process will involve taking cells from the father, implanting them into an egg that will then be transplanted to a woman’s womb to grow. The child will be an exact clone of the man.

This is clearly controversial science, fraught with ethical and moral dilemmas.

Dolly the sheep might look normal, but in animals at least, she’s the exception. Ninety-five per cent of all animal clones end in disaster. Most are born well over size and die within the first two weeks. Many have serious physical deformities as well.

Most doctors believe the same problems will plague any efforts to clone humans. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of people who think it’s a medical advancement that should never be pursued.

SEVERINI ANTONORI: [Excerpt not translated] ...

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: At times Dr Antonori had trouble controlling the heated exchanges from his own conference floor. But Antonori is no strange to controversy. Seven years ago he helped a 62-year-old woman give birth using IVF. Rosanna Delacorta is now nearly 70. Her son Ricardo is a happy, energetic little boy. But even she seems reluctant to support the brave next step of genetic engineering.

ROSANNA DELACORTA: [Translation follows] ...

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: ‘I don’t want to judge anybody’ she told me. ‘I have suffered so much from this judgement myself. But the whole issue is too big for me.’

Dr Antonori’s work has outraged conservative Italian society and of course the Vatican. The Pope says the whole process is morally unacceptable.

Antonori’s team says it will begin work in the next few weeks in an unnamed Mediterranean country and will hope to have produced the first human clone within two years.

COMPERE: Michael Brissenden reporting from Rome.


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