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Tuesday, 7 August, 2001, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Cloning doctors make their case
Severino Antinori and Panayiotis Zavos AFP
Antinori and Zavos believe opinion will shift their way
Doctors are defending their controversial decision to go ahead with plans for human cloning before an expert scientific panel in the US.

[Tuesday's] meeting is a good opportunity to explain. The public will understand and will change the opinion to positive

Dr Severino Antinori
Dr Panos Zavos, an American, and Dr Severino Antinori, an Italian, say they plan to start human cloning experiments within weeks.

The doctors are trying to convince an investigative committee of the National Academies of Science (NAS) that the use of cloning to help childless couples conceive is both practically and ethically acceptable.

To watch coverage of a forum with Dr Panos Zavos, please click here:   56k  

Dr Zavos told the panel that his team would inform potential patients that cloning involved risks.

"There is no such thing as total perfection in the business of human reproduction," he said.

Animal cloning experts said earlier that experiments involving people were likely to fail or produce babies with severe abnormalities.

There is no such thing as total perfection in the business of human reproduction

Dr Panos Zavos

Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said only 1% to 5% of cloned animals survive.

"Even clones that survive to birth often have severe abnormalities and die [prematurely] later," he said.

Dr Antinori went into the Washington meeting with a warning from medical authorities that he risks losing his right to practise in Italy because of his plans to copy humans.

The NAS panel is looking into all aspects of cloning - as a way to develop new therapies and improve agricultural livestock. It plans to produce a report for public discussion by the end of the year.

UFO group

By this time, Drs Zavos and Antinori hope to have started their cloning programme.

"We are considering 200 couples," Dr Zavos said on the eve of the NAS meeting.

"That doesn't mean that 200 couples will be cloned immediately. They will be considered as such. We will start with the first one, we'll finish with the 200th one, eventually, but it's not going to happen all in November."

Gaur BBC
Animal evidence: Many clones like this gaur die soon after birth
Drs Zavos and Antinori are sharing a platform with Dr Brigitte Boisselier, a biochemist and member of a UFO group known as the Raelians. The group, which believes in extraterrestrials and promotes cloning as a chance for "eternal life", defended its intentions to pursue the technology in a statement on Monday.

The group, which has a company called Clonaid, said copying humans would eventually become as acceptable as producing them in a test tube (in vitro). It said the appearance of Dr Boisselier before the NAS panel was important because "it shows that the scientific community is interested in a more objective view on this subject than the politicians".

European law

Dr Antinori flew into Washington after receiving a warning from the vice president of Rome's medical association that he could be barred from practising altogether if he carried through his cloning plans.

Dr Brigitte Boisselier AP
Dr Brigitte Boisselier is a biochemist and a Raelian bishop
"He is risking not being allowed to practice medicine in this country (Italy)," Mario Falconi said, adding that Dr Antinori had already been asked to appear before the association's governing council.

Italy's medical code stipulates that medical experimentation is only allowed for the prevention and correction of medical problems. Cloning is also prohibited under a Council of Europe convention that came into force in March.

But Dr Antinori believes he has to counter what he describes as "an illogical fear" of cloning.

"For me it's an illogical fear because, in reality, it's just therapeutic cloning to give the opportunity to millions of men in the world to become fathers. [Tuesday's] meeting is a good opportunity to explain. The public will understand and will change the opinion to positive."

The BBC's Sue Nelson
"The team aim to start human cloning in November"
The BBC's Tom Carver
"The House of Representatives has already voted against any form of human cloning"
Prof Ian Craft, London Fertility Clinic
"I think it is too soon to be considering cloning for therapeutic reasons"

Human cloning
Should doctors be allowed to copy humans?
See also:

05 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Couples 'join human cloning trial'
09 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Doctors defiant on cloning
09 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Human cloning: The 'terrible odds'
30 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Cloned human planned 'by 2003'
07 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Profile: Dr Severino Antinori
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