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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
UN seeks anti-cloning treaty
Drs Antinori and Zavos
Severino Antinori (left) and Panos Zavos are keen to clone
A worldwide treaty to ban human reproductive cloning is a step closer after the United Nations set up a working party to draft an agreement.

The UN General Assembly's legal committee, meeting on Monday, has created the group to begin wording the treaty.

However, the process is expected to take years, with all 190 member nations given the opportunity to have their say on the issue.

Many countries are introducing their own legislation to outlaw human cloning.

Predicting success

Controversial scientist Dr Severino Antinori has already said that he is working to create the first human baby clone.

Although many experts say it could be some years before he succeeds, he says that technical advances mean that success could be swift.

There has been widespread condemnation of any attempt to create a baby through cloning.

The US is heading for a ban on all human cloning, although this will also outlaw many potential types of medical research.

Uncertain reports

In August 2001, its House of Representatives voted by 265 to 162 for the outright ban, rejecting an amendment permitting human cloning for stem cell research.

Reproductive cloning cannot take place in the UK either - a hastily drafted law banning the practice passed through Parliament late last year.

How far scientists have got in their efforts to bring a baby clone to birth remains a mystery.

The creation in the US of "the first human embryo clone" was widely reported last year, but there was no attempt to implant this in a woman.

There were more recent reports that a human embryo clone had been implanted by doctors in Korea, but these have not been verified. And it is widely suspected that human embryo clones were produced in the lab in China some time ago, but again nothing has been published in the international journals.

Dangerous pursuit

Scientists say that any attempt to create a human baby clone would be fraught with dangers for mother and child.

The most famous animal clone, Dolly the sheep, was the only success in 247 attempts.

Many cloned animal foetuses develop with severe abnormalities and spontaneously abort, often putting the mother's life at risk in the process.

Those few which currently do survive are often plagued by severe health problems and malformations - and there is little evidence to reassure experts that "healthy" animal clones have a normal lifespan or good health later in life.

Research future

Dr Antonori says he has found a way of screening embryos to cut the number of failed pregnancies, but other doctors say there is no way to detect those which will not develop normally.

However, other researchers are concerned that an outright ban on cloning human embryos could jeopardise future medical research.

In particular, some see embryo clones as a source of stem cells, which may one day help provide treatments for many different diseases.

The use of cloning technology in this area is also highly controversial.

See also:

01 Aug 01 | Americas
09 Mar 01 | Science/Nature
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