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The BBC's science correspondent Fergus Walsh in Rome
"The champions of cloning came to Rome to argue their case"
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The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"In principle, it's straightforward"
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Dr Harry Griffin, Roslin Institute
"It is not inevitable that it can be done"
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Debating the issues
Embryologist Dr Sammy Lee and Ruth Deech, head of the UK human fertilisation authority
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Friday, 9 March, 2001, 12:43 GMT
Doctors defiant on cloning
Severino Antinori and Panayiotis Zavos AFP
Antinori and Zavos want an open debate on human cloning
Doctors from Italy and the United States said on Friday they intended to push ahead with their plans to clone human beings, despite the objections and doubts raised by religious and scientific groups.

Cloning may be considered as the last frontier to overcome male sterility

Severino Antinori
Italian Severino Antinori and American Panayiotis Zavos told a symposium in Rome that they were motivated solely by the desire to help infertile couples have children.

"Cloning may be considered as the last frontier to overcome male sterility and give the possibility to infertile males to pass on their genetic pattern," Antinori told scientists and journalists at the city's Umberto I Polyclinic.

"Some people say we are going to clone the world, but this isn't true...I'm asking all of us in the scientific community to be prudent and calm," he said. "We're talking science, we're not here to create a fuss."

Dolly the sheep

Antinori is no stranger to controversy. He attracted criticism when he helped a 62-year-old woman give birth.

Rome BBC
Zavos: "Dolly is here and we are next"
Panos Zavos, who resigned earlier this month from his post at the University of Kentucky after announcing he was going to work on the cloning project, said the researchers had been bombarded with e-mail from couples eager to have children through the new technology.

"They come to us and they don't call you names, they don't cuss you, they don't say you're unethical," Zavos said. "They said, 'Help me'.

Dolly is here and we are next," Zavos said, referring to the sheep that became the first adult mammal clone in 1996.

Developmental abnormalities

The plan has come under heavy fire from mainstream scientists and religious groups, with the Vatican describing the proposals as "grotesque".

Many of the animal clones die late in pregnancy or soon after birth and show developmental abnormalities

Dr Harry Griffin, Roslin Institute
Experts working with the animal clones doubt whether Zavos and Antinori can actually make the technology work in humans.

"The probability is that it can be done but it is not inevitable that it can be done," said Dr Harry Griffin, of the Roslin Institute, the Scottish centre where Dolly was produced.

"Certainly, the efficiency [of animal cloning] in published work is very low - around 2% of the embryos that are created by cloning make it to term.

"Critically for this debate, many of the animal clones die late in pregnancy or soon after birth and show developmental abnormalities."

Mediterranean clinic

Antinori attempted to play down some of the dangers of cloning at the Rome symposium.

"Cloning creates ordinary children," he said. "They will be unique individuals, not photocopies of individuals."

He did not indicate which of the couples that had volunteered would be chosen for the programme, but said he had ruled out single women and couples who wanted to have another child after the death of other offspring.

He gave no indication when or where he might attempt cloning but said he had no intention of breaking any laws.

"In Italy, there's no law yet that prohibits it, we're respectful of laws," Antinori said.

He told the BBC he had an invitation from an unnamed Mediterranean country to set up a cloning clinic.

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See also:

09 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Human cloning: The 'terrible odds'
30 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Cloned human planned 'by 2003'
16 Aug 00 | Sci/Tech
Experts support human cloning
29 Aug 00 | Europe
Pope condemns human cloning
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