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Tuesday, November 17, 1998 Published at 11:35 GMT


Scientist prepares for human cloning

Professor Severion Antinori: I want public support

BBC Health Correspondent Fergus Walsh reports.

One of the world's leading fertility experts has told the BBC that he would be prepared to create the world's first human clone.

Health Correspondent Fergus Welsh: Just a matter of time
Professor Severino Antinori said that it was just a matter of time before the cloning of humans became a reality. He said he hoped it would be legalised in strictly limited circumstances.

The Italian physician said he favoured cloning to help infertile couples have a child.

He said: "I think cloning is a good idea in certain situations - when a man has no sperm cells it could help him have a child.

"I am collaborating with colleagues outside Italy who are carrying out animal experiments. This sort of research is banned here, but there is no doubt that cloning will be a reality within a few years."

[ image: Dolly the sheep: proved cloning was possible]
Dolly the sheep: proved cloning was possible
The prospect of human cloning has been made possible by the pioneering work of British scientists, who successfully created the world's first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, last year.

Dolly was created by extracting the nucleus of a cell from the udder of a ewe and implanting it into an egg cell stripped of its own genetic material.

The cloning of Dolly and other animals is designed to help scientists develop new drugs to combat haemophilia and other inherited diseases.

Inefficient and unsafe

However, Dr Harry Griffin, who worked on the Dolly project, warned any attempt to clone a human would be inefficient and unsafe.

[ image: Dr Harry Griffin: against human cloning]
Dr Harry Griffin: against human cloning
He said: "Inefficient because in Dolly's case we used 277 reconstructed eggs to produce one successful pregnancy, collecting eggs from perhaps 40 donor ewes, and unsafe because a good proportion of our pregnancies fail late in pregnancy and we have had lambs that die soon after birth.

"Each individual has a right to an individual genetic identity. Consider how a clone might be reared in a family. The wife would be rearing a genetically identical copy of her husband, the husband would see a genetically identical copy of himself growing up and the child, when he knew of his origins, would surely query what his genetic background was."

Professor Antinori agreed it would immoral to try to clone humans just for the sake of it, but he said it could be used to help infertile couples.

"Generally people are against human cloning, and I blame the media for pre-judging it. I want to bring society with me, and persuade people that it is right in rare cases to help infertile couples," he said.

I don't want to do it in secret, I want to do it when society is behind me, even though some groups like the Vatican will always be against me."

Professor Antinori achieved worldwide fame four years ago when he used in vitro fertilisation techniques to help a 62-year-old woman become the world's oldest mother.

His work on sperm micro-injections has transformed the treatment of male infertility.

One of Italy's foremost experts in bio-ethics said human cloning was ethically indefensible.

Professor Giovanni Berlinguer, of Rome University, said: "We do not have the right to predetermine the future of a person, and even from the practical point of view fortunately you cannot establish what a person will be in the future.

"You could clone a cell from Mother Teresa and give birth to a serial killer."

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