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Sunday, 5 August, 2001, 18:39 GMT 19:39 UK
Couples 'join human cloning trial'
Cloning graphic
Two hundred couples are reported to have been selected to take part in a human cloning project run by an Italian embryologist.

Dr Severino Antinori said he intended to go ahead with attempts to produce human clones, after announcing the successful cloning of 10 mice.

Eight British women are believed to be among those who have volunteered to undergo fertility treatment using a human cloning technique he is developing, reported the Sunday Times newspaper.

But the cloning programme has already prompted widespread concern from doctors, scientists and pro-life groups.

Professor Severino Antinori
Prof Severino Antinori has selected couples from many countries
Dr Antinori, who earned international fame in 1994 for enabling a 62-year-old woman to have a baby, is expected to give full details of the project at a meeting in Washington, US, later in the week.

He has selected the 200 couples from several countries.

'Monster' warnings

The technique he will use is similar to that used to produce Dolly the sheep, the first vertebrate clone created from the cell of an adult animal.

It involves injecting genetic material from an infertile father into the mother's egg, which is then implanted in the woman's uterus.

The resulting child would have the same physical characteristics as the father - and the infertile parents would not have to rely on sperm donors.

Dr Antinori, who runs a clinic in Rome that helps infertile couples, has been warned by scientists in Japan and the United States that he risks "creating monsters".

But he insists that these fears are exaggerated, and says he hopes to start the scheme in November.

Intense scrutiny

In the UK, the House of Lords voted earlier this year to legalise only the production of human clones for therapeutic, or research purposes.

When people hear a story about couples who have lost a child and want to replace it, they will consent to it

Professor Jack Scarisbrick, Life
But the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said it could do little about people, doctors or scientists going abroad to take part in full reproductive cloning - to produce children.

"If someone was doing that sort of treatment, which is scientifically risky and ethically unacceptable, we would look at their centre very closely and they would come under intense scrutiny," said a spokesman.

Professor Jack Scarisbrick, national director of Life, said he feared public pressure would eventually lead to reproductive cloning becoming legal in the UK.

'Abnormality risk'

Vivienne Nathanson, of the British Medical Association Ethics Committee, told the BBC the welfare of the child had to be considered.

"We have to wonder whether that child is born to be a copy of one parent, and if that copy is somehow imperfect, will the child be loved and cherished?"

Scientists involved in the successful birth of Dolly the sheep say the high level of failure and foetal abnormality in their work shows that applying the same technique to humans would be irresponsible.

Professor Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute, told the BBC he would be very concerned.

"The most likely outcome of any attempt to produce a human clone at present would be late abortion, birth of dead children or, perhaps worse, the birth of children who are abnormal."

The BBC's Caroline Thomsett reports
"The plans are being viewed as morally wrong"
Dr Harry Griffin
is Assistant Director at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, where Dolly the sheep was cloned.
See also:

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'
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