By Barry Serafin
Racing to Clone People
Experts Say Human Cloning Is Inevitable, But Is It Ethical?
All babies are genetically unique — each one is a biological extension of both parents but Kentucky fertility specialist Panos Zavos wants to change all that. Zavos and an international team of doctors say that within two year and a half years, they will produce the world's first cloned baby. He says the procedure would be offered only to infertile couples.
"We will clone a human for therapeutic purposes. That is very important for people to know that," Zavos says. "This is not just to clone anyone that wishes to do that."
Doug Dorner and his wife, Nancy, are interested in cloning because cancer treatment left Doug sterile.
"I don't see any reason why technology can't help me to have a child," Doug says. "I think that cloning at this point would be a good option because it would actually be one of us."
Dorner learned about cloning from a Web site, http://www.humancloning.org/ The site is run by the Human Cloning Institute, which was founded by Randolfe Wicker.
Wicker sees cloning as a way to cheat death.
"I will be cloned after it is safe, viable, and affordable, and I don't think that will be terribly long from now," says Wicker. "I would sort of like live on through my later-born twin."
Experts estimate that the procedure will cost couples between $50,000 and $60,000 initially.
Critics Question Safety
But critics say much more research needs to be done before human cloning is considered safe. Even the cloning of animals like sheep, cows, pigs and mice is still far from foolproof. For example, at Infigen, a leading animal cloning company, the highest success rate so far is only 15 percent. That's all right for animals, but what about people?
Bioethicist Alta Charo says human cloning carries an unacceptable risk of miscarriages, stillbirths and birth defects.
"I think it's unprofessional," says Charo. "I think it's unsafe. It's unproven. It's certainly untested in humans…What we are going to get, nobody knows, we've never done this before."
Zavos insists the cloning team will not go forward if it cannot develop safe, reliable procedures. If they can't find a way to clone safely, they'll stop altogether.
"If by any means we cannot develop this technology, our ambitions are not going to drive us to the level where we are going to act irresponsibly," he says. "We're going to close the shop and go home, and the world needs to know that."
Supporters and critics of human cloning do agree on some things. It is important to understand, they say, that a clone might look like a twin, but it would not be the exact copy many of us envision.
"That little baby is going to be different simply because it has a different environment," says Wicker. "There's going to be a different series of life experience, different nutrition. All types of things are going to impact that child."
For example, clones of Michael Jordan might not be great basketball players. Instead, they might play the violin or become mathematicians.
'The Genie Is Out of the Bottle'
There is also agreement among the experts that, however controversial, attempts at human cloning are inevitable. Even the chairman of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, which concluded in 1997 that human cloning was unsafe and unethical, said in 1998 that it would be "very difficult, if not impossible, to try to stop."
Zavos says his group is working to ensure that when human cloning does happen, it is done properly.
"The way I look at it, the genie is out of the bottle," Zavos says. "If we don't do it, somebody else will do it and they'll do it soon, and probably in a very irresponsible fashion."
Arguments over ethics, risks, benefits and legality go on, but human cloning appears to be just a matter of time.
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