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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 20:25 GMT 21:25 UK
Germany and France seek cloning ban
Dr Severino Antinori and Dr Panos Zavos
The EU has no legal power to stop Dr Antinori (left)
By BBC Science's Julian Siddle

France and Germany have asked the United Nations to consider an international ban on human cloning.

Their request follows an announcement by an Italian doctor that he intends to start cloning human beings.

This announcement was earlier condemned by religious groups and greeted with dismay by the European Commission.

The French and German governments say they have asked for an international ban on cloning to be discussed at the next meeting of the United Nations general assembly, due to take place in September.

Controversial doctor

The European Commission said it was opposed to human cloning on ethical grounds but had no legal power to stop the doctor, Severino Antinori, who runs a fertility clinic in Rome.

Dr Antinori's research has always been controversial. He has used mice to incubate human sperm, and helped a 62-year-old woman become pregnant through the implantation of donated eggs.

Many scientists see cloning as an essential tool in stem cell research - that is, research into embryo cells, which, they hope, can be programmed to form tissue to treat a range of degenerative diseases.

Cloning would allow these cells to be made specific to an individual so that any treatment would not have an immune response problem.

Resolutions not binding

Dr Antinori says he plans to implant up to 200 women with embryos cloned from single adult cells.

His plan has been greeted with scepticism by scientists involved in cloning research.

They point out that cloning experiments with animals have had a very limited success rate.

International resolutions on banning cloning have been drawn up by the United Nations science and education body, Unesco, and the World Health Organisation, but are not legally binding.

Britain is so far the only European country to have specifically outlawed human reproductive cloning, although it does allow limited cloning of stem cells for research.

However, many other countries such as France, Japan and the United States are considering legislation to make all forms of cloning illegal.

See also:

08 Aug 01 | Americas
US press condemns cloning plans
07 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
Profile: Dr Severino Antinori
09 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Human cloning: The 'terrible odds'
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