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Human cloning plan draws ethicists' ire
by Michael Lasalandra and Marie Szaniszlo

Saturday, March 10, 2001

Scientists, ethicists and theologians are decrying a plan announced in Italy yesterday to begin cloning human beings, saying it is dangerous and immoral.

``These proposals contradict the truth of mankind, man's dignity, man's rights . . . especially the right to be conceived in the human way,'' said the Rev. Gino Concetti, a theologian whose views are thought to reflect those of Pope John Paul II.

American scientist 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 in Rome.

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 cloned infants.

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.

``There are a lot of countries out there,'' Lanza said. ``I'm sure they'll find one.''

But the Worcester scientist said the world isn't ready for cloned humans - and may never be ready.

``You could end up with a child that is defective,'' he said. ``That wouldn't be right. This is very premature and of questionable ethics.''

George Annas, medical ethicist at Boston University, however, said the idea of cloning a human being is ``unprofessional and unethical'' and said he doubts Zavos will ever do it.

``He is a legitimate scientist but he hasn't done any human work,'' he said. ``Why is anybody taking him seriously?''

Annas compared Zavos to Richard Seed, the Chicago physicist who announced a couple of years ago that he would clone a human - but never did it. ``This is Seed reincarnated.''

Ethicist Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania called Zavos a ``fraud and a scam artist'' and also said he would never clone a human.

``He doesn't have the scientific know how and skill to do what no one else can do today,'' he said.

Even if it could be done, Annas said, the idea of cloning to help infertile couples is a joke.

``Cloning can't get you a baby, just a duplicate,'' he said. ``You don't get your child, you get your twin,'' he said.

The Rev. Germain Kopaczynski, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Brighton, said, ``Just because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean it's a good thing. Part of what makes each human being precious is his or her uniqueness . . . Cloning says, `No thank you, Nature. We've found perfection.' ''

Robert Lanza, a vice president at Advanced Cell Technologies, a Worcester biotech firm that is involved in embryo cell cloning experiments using animals, said ``They're serious, which is very unfortunate.

``We're all very concerned in the scientific community. The technology exists. It has worked with a number of species. There's no reason to believe it won't work in humans.''

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.

``There is a high risk of mortality and morbidity,'' Lanza said. ``There would be a considerable number of defects.''

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.

The woman could also be the one cloned, he said, depending on a couple's choice.

Herald wire services contributed to this report.


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