Deputy PM condemns cloning plan
By PAUL HEINRICHS
Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson and Australia's IVF scientists have joined a global backlash against a plan by two international fertility doctors to clone a human being.
Mr Anderson, who raised the possibility of government intervention on cloning, said the latest plan would "make children simple commodities".
He said the idea of cloning humans raised serious issues. "For one thing these children would be deprived of the normal expectation of having parents," he said.
"Secondly, we are opening up the door to conditional love of children based on whether we wanted them or not, rather than the unconditional love that should be offered any child."
The plan reflected an obsession with adults' rights and desires without proper thought for the needs of the children involved, he said.
Some scientists had warned that research is this area had been taken further than the public knew or would be comfortable with, Mr Anderson said.
"Inevitably there will be all the usual calls for government to step in, and that might well be needed, but this is a debate that goes to the value of human life and essentially it will be won or lost in the nation's living rooms," he said.
Victorian doctors Alan Trounson and John McBain warned that severe abnormalities were the most likely result of the cloning experiment, which could not be justified on medical or ethical grounds.
Dr Trounson, scientific director of the Monash IVF team, said: "It could well be possible, but the dangers are so high that you would equate it to, perhaps, thalidomide. That's the kind of area it's in."
Thalidomide was the drug prescribed in the early 1960s for pregnant women. Australian doctor William McBride later discovered it caused multiple limb deformities.
Dr McBain, chairman of the Melbourne IVF group and Royal Women's Hospital director of surgery, said that given the abnormality rate for cloning in animals, "the rate for human cloning would probably be unacceptably high for humans".
It was ethically unsustainable and would "irreparably damage the reputation of other forms of reproductive medicine", he said.
The scientists' condemnation, joined by bioethicists, the pro-life lobby and church leaders including the Vatican, comes as the two doctors who plan the cloning experiments, Severino Antinori, of Italy and Panos Zavos, of the US, say 600 to 700 couples have volunteered to be part of experiments. Australians are believed to be among those who have sought the treatment.
Soon after announcing their plans, the Antinori-Zavos team tried to entice Dr Trounson to join their project to give it more prestige and acceptability. But Dr Trounson vehemently ruled it out.
"They are not serious people ... Antinori in particular is a self-seeking fame-maker, really," Dr Trounson said. "He's looking for international fame and glory, but neither of them of them has the capability of doing anything like that, and it's the most foolish thing you can think of."
Dr Trounson said a lot of work was needed to make the techniques safe. "But these people, they're not allowed to do it in Italy, so they're going to do it on some Mediterranean island."
He said the experiment was "nutty" and should be condemned. "It's dangerous and it shouldn't be contemplated ... It's really for self-gratification, it's for self-centred reasons," he said. "It's not to do with having a family - we've got plenty of other ways of doing that."
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