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 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 18:52 GMT
'Human clone' doctor on hunger strike
Graphic, BBC
Advocates argue cloning can help infertile couples
The controversial Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori has gone on hunger strike, accusing the authorities of persecuting him for his human cloning projects.

"From now on I am not eating anything until Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi meets me and gives me guarantees that Italy is still a free country for science and for me," Dr Antinori said in front of the seat of the Italian Government in Rome.

Dr Severino Antinori
This is an attack on science and on the freedom of scientific research

Severino Antinori
On Monday, police said they were investigating Dr Antinori to determine whether his Rome fertility clinic doubled as an experimental facility for cloning procedures.

This followed an announcement last month by a US-based company, Clonaid, that it had beaten Dr Antinori by producing the world's first clone - nicknamed baby Eve.

Dr Antinori - who had earlier announced that one of his patients would give birth to a cloned baby in January - rubbished Clonaid's claims.

Many countries have now introduced legislation to outlaw human cloning. Italy has a temporary ban on the practice.

Only liquids

Dr Antinori began the hunger strike at noon local time (1100 GMT) in front of Mr Berlusconi's office.

He said he would refrain from food but would take liquids and return daily to make his case.

The police investigation, begun at the request of Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia, was "like in the Holy Inquisition, about my research and not about crimes," he said.

"This is an attack on science and on the freedom of scientific research," Dr Antinori told reporters.

Human embryo, AP
The human embryo grows rapidly after conception
He said he was prepared to die if he did not get what he wanted.

"At least it will be for a good cause," he said.

Opponents of human cloning have described Dr Antinori's work as ethically irresponsible, warning that even if the process succeeds it may produce babies with severe defects.

Most scientists doubt, though, whether Dr Antinori really has the expertise to bring a baby clone into the world.

The 55-year-old was previously best known for his work in in vitro fertilisation, and in particular for enabling women in their 50s and 60s to give birth.

He shot to prominence in 1994 when he helped a 63-year-old woman to have a baby by implanting a donor's fertilised egg in her uterus, making her the oldest known women in the world to give birth.

Clonaid case

Clonaid has been ordered by a United States court to reveal the whereabouts of the baby girl it says was born as a result of human cloning as well as her mother.

Clonaid chief executive Brigitte Boisselier
Clonaid believes humans were cloned by aliens
The legal moves came after the company said the parents of baby Eve were reluctant to have the DNA tests as they could be obliged by law to reveal their identity.

In the absence of any DNA proof, scientists have dismissed Clonaid's claim that a baby has been cloned.

Clonaid was founded by the Raelian sect which believes humans were cloned by aliens.

Human reproductive cloning

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