Lexington researcher defends cloning
By Courtney Kinney, Post Frankfort Bureau Chief
LEXINGTON - By one account, cloning tampers with the definition of human. By another, it gives hope to infertile couples.
Though playing out internationally, the debate has taken on added significance in Kentucky because of a researcher's work in Lexington, where some of the principal players met face-to-face Monday evening.
Pano Zavos - the founder and director of the Andrology Institute of America in Lexington - argued that an American ban on human cloning would be naive.
''They're trying to shoo an elephant under the rug,'' he said during a weekly live television forum on Kentucky Educational Television.
''If we ban it in the U.S., I assure you it will pop up somewhere else.''
Zavos is a former University of Kentucky reproductive researcher who left his position last month to concentrate on cloning. He and an Italian doctor have predicted they will successfully clone a human within a year - but won't say where it is being done or who is funding it.
Zavos said cloning is a viable alternative for infertile couples who want to create their own biological child. But the three other voices on KET's Kentucky Tonight panel - two Louisville religious leaders and a Louisville fertility expert - said human cloning is dangerous.
''I cannot imagine a technology that poses a greater threat to human dignity and human worth,'' said Rev. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and the panelist most opposed to cloning.
Especially dangerous is the race to be the first to successfully clone a person, warned Rev. Scott Williamson, an assistant professor of theological ethics at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
''It's unsafe - technologically unsafe and morally - to move ahead with this type of cloning,'' Williamson said. ''Not only have ethical questions not been answered, some of them haven't been raised.''
Cloning produces an exact replica of the being that supplies the original cell. It has been one of the most discussed - and most controversial - medical topics since 1997, when scientists reproduced an adult sheep, Dolly, using a single cell from a sheep's udder.
A cloned human would be a sibling to the person from whom the cell comes, not a biological offspring, said Alberto Carrillo, an embryologist at Louisville's Norton Healthcare Pavilion. He echoed Williamson's apprehension of moving too fast to be the first to clone a person.
''Given that animal cloning is so recent, what's the rush?'' he said. ''Let's give anima l cloning a little more time.''
Carrillo said the incidence of birth defects and other abnormalities is common in clones. Zavos, though, assured care would be taken, saying, ''We will do it right or we will not do it.''
Williamson said he is against human cloning for the time being. There may be some good in cloning - for instance, helping infertile couples reproduce. And, he said, he is in favor of therapeutic cloning, which could produce vital tissues from a person's own genetic material. The process doesn't involve the creation of an embryo.
''If we can take a cell from a liver to create a liver, I'm OK with that,'' Williamson said.
The panelists differed on how they thought the government should handle human cloning. Such research has not been permitted by the Food and Drug Administration and talk of limits and all-out bans has been heard in Congress.
Mohler insisted a ban is necessary to maintain integrity of the human race.
''We need a basic line that is drawn clearly that says no human cloning, period,'' he said.
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