ROME March 9, 2001 (Reuters) - Scientists from the United States
and Italy said on Friday they planned to create the first cloned
human beings, despite religious outrage and opposition from many
American Panayiotis Zavos and Italian Severino Antinori, who has
already gained notoriety by helping a 62-year-old woman give birth,
said they wanted to clone babies to help infertile couples have children.
"Cloning may be considered as the last frontier to overcome
male sterility and give the possibility to infertile males to pass
on their genetic pattern," Antinori told a packed auditorium
of scientists and journalists.
"Some people say we are going to clone the world, but this isn't
true... I'm asking all of us in the scientific community to be prudent
and calm," he said.
"We're talking science, we're not here to create a fuss."
Antinori and Zavos, a reproductive scientist based in Kentucky who
runs companies working on genetics and cloning, say 10 infertile
couples have volunteered to participate in the experiment to produce
The plan has come under heavy fire from mainstream scientists and
religious groups, with the Vatican describing their proposals as "grotesque."
Bishop Elio Sgreccia, head of the John Paul II Institute for Bioethics
at Rome's Gemelli hospital, said human cloning raised profoundly
disturbing ethical issues.
"Those who made the atomic bomb went ahead in spite of knowing
about its terrible destruction," he told Reuters Television
before the cloning meeting started. "But this doesn't mean that
it was the best choice for humanity."
"The forecasts (about human cloning) sadden us but don't scare
us," he said, adding it would be a betrayal if the Roman Catholic
Church's voice was not heard in the debate.
The scientists have said they will conduct the experiment in an unidentified
Mediterranean country in order to try to escape the mounting flak,
and since several countries already have banned human cloning research.
Dr. Ian Wilmut, who created Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep,
said it took 277 tries to get it right. Other cloning attempts have
ended in malformed animals and experts say the technique fails in
97 percent of cases.
Last year, Britain proposed allowing human cells to be cloned for
research purposes while other European countries, including Spain
and France have banned human cloning altogether.
Zavos told a conference in January that he and Antinori would use
regular cells or undifferentiated stem cells from a man and insert
them into an ovacyte, a woman's egg stripped of its genetic material.
Zavos said the cell would be stimulated to divide and create an embryo
equipped with all the specialty cells which make up a copy of the
man, and then implanted in the woman's uterus.
The woman could also be the one cloned, he said, depending on a couple's
"It's not the easiest thing," he told the scientific conference
in January. "The stability of the genetic information is what's
important. We're cloning a human being now, we're not trying to create
a Dolly. You don't want to create a monster."