MED/SOC: Rome Human Cloning Discussion

Date: Sun Mar 18 2001 - 13:57:14 MST

For those of you who may have missed this (I can't imagine how!), here's a
report on the recent conference in Rome at which near-term attempts at human
cloning were discussed.

I find the following passage especaily interesting: "]Zavos] said the group
has 'unlimited' funding from unidentified private sources and would handle
its own quality control. 'We don't want the government involved in this
project,' he said." I wonder who is the money behind this and if they're
thinking ahead to secure private funding of facilities to research, develop
and deploy human augmentation technologies. If anyone has specific
information about these questions, feel free to contact me off-list.

   <<<>>> <<<>>> <<<>>>

>From The LA Times,
Saturday, March 10, 2001 | Print this story

Forum on Human Cloning Turns Raucous

 Europe: Doctors say they're forging ahead with plan to create children for
clients. The idea draws criticism on ethical and scientific grounds.

By RICHARD BOUDREAUX, Times Staff Writer

     ROME--In a scientific forum punctuated by shouting matches, three
doctors from the United States, Italy and Israel told critics Friday that
nothing can stop their plan to create cloned children and said that more
than 600 infertile couples have already signed up with them.
     The would-be pioneers disclosed little new information about their
semisecret project, announced six weeks ago, and spurned the idea of
submitting to ethical or scientific oversight by any government.
     Instead, they spent four polemic-filled hours either belittling rival
researchers and wary politicians or trying to convince them--and a skeptical
public--that science is ready to move on to cloning humans despite a
disturbing rate of disease and deformities in similarly reproduced animals.
     "Some claim that we're moving too fast. They are right," Dr. Avi
Ben-Abraham, an American Israeli biotechnologist, told a packed lecture hall
bristling with TV news cameras from around the world. "We are moving as fast
as we can think, as fast as we can imagine, [but] we are proceeding with the
utmost responsibility."
     The team is led by Dr. Severino Antinori of Italy, who has already
pushed the boundaries of fertility treatment by helping women become
pregnant in their late 50s and early 60s. He and Dr. Panayiotis M. Zavos, an
American reproductive physiologist who has just left the University of
Kentucky, announced their project Jan. 25, apparently becoming the first
specialists in reproduction to publicly set the goal of cloning a human
     At Friday's forum in Rome, organized to publicize and advance the
project, Ben-Abraham introduced himself as the third member of the team. He
is a practitioner of cryonics--which involves freezing people at death in
the hope that science will one day be able to afford them resurrection--and
lost a race for Israel's parliament in 1999.
     Cloning is a process for creating a genetic twin of an individual.
Scientists start with an egg cell, remove the egg's DNA, then insert DNA or
even a whole cell from the adult being duplicated into the egg. When the
process works, the egg cell begins dividing and grows into an embryo, which
is then transferred to a natural or surrogate mother and grown to term--just
the way human "test-tube" babies are produced at fertility clinics.
     In the four years since the arrival of Dolly, the famous sheep and the
first cloned mammal, scientists have cloned cows, pigs, mice and other
animals. But for every successful birth, they have lost dozens who fail to
grow in the womb, don't survive birth or die soon after birth from
     Driven by fear of similar risks to human clones or ethical objections
to the idea of reproducing humans in such a manner, many governments have
moved to restrict or ban human cloning.
     Opposition echoed Friday inside and outside the narrow lecture hall at
Umberto I Policlinic, Rome's largest hospital.
     "How can you take the destiny of the human race into your hands?"
Fabrizia Pratesi, a leader of Italy's Green Party, asked from the audience.
     "No provocations, please," the moderator warned her. "Just scientific
     "I'm going to be very provocative!" Pratesi shouted, seconds before her
microphone went dead. "All the major organizations of human society oppose
human cloning. It's unthinkable."
     The proceedings were disrupted again when a doctor in a white coat
rose, over the moderator's objections, to read a disapproving letter from
the head of the hospital's obstetrics and gynecology department. He branded
the event "inopportune and reprehensible."
     Amid the disorder, a Harvard-educated scientist, Dr. Richard G. Seed,
got up and said he wanted to clone his wife.
     Organizers of the forum had billed it as an ethical discussion that
might help guide their work and would include participation by an unnamed
Roman Catholic cardinal. No church official came, but Bishop Elio Sgreccia,
head of the John Paul II Institute for Bioethics in Rome, assailed the
project from a distance.
     "Those who made the atomic bomb went ahead in spite of knowing about
its terrible destruction," he said from his office in Rome's Gemelli
Hospital. "This doesn't mean it was the best choice for humanity."
     Antinori, the project leader, spent part of the question-and-answer
session fending off such criticism. He shouted down visiting researchers and
reporters who raised ethical questions about the project.
     Referring to opposition to cloning in Germany and Japan, he told a
Japanese reporter: "Germany did horrible experiments during World War II, so
they probably have a sense of guilt. Japan has psychological problems."
     The Italian fertility specialist and his colleagues tried to shift the
focus of debate to the quiet desires of infertile couples.
     Zavos said they have received "thousands and thousands" of e-mail
messages since their January announcement, and "99.9% of them are positive."
Infertile couples in Japan, Argentina, Britain, the United States and
elsewhere want to take part in the cloning effort, he said, and the list of
volunteers is growing.
     "They come to us and they don't call you names, they don't cuss you
out, they don't say, 'You're unethical,' " Zavos said, pacing the lecture
hall like an evangelist giving a sermon. "They just say, 'Help me, please.'
     The scientists said they would work only with couples who cannot bear
children by other means. They said they expect to produce a viable embryo
for cloning within 18 to 24 months but wouldn't disclose where they will set
up their lab. Zavos said the group is looking at "around six countries,"
including some in Europe.
     He said the group has "unlimited" funding from unidentified private
sources and would handle its own quality control. "We don't want the
government involved in this project," he said.
     Other scientists argue that the results of animal cloning so far
underscore the need for more research on animals before cloning is tried on
humans. Dr. Ian Wilmut, for example, says he lost 28 embryos from 277 eggs
before creating Dolly the sheep.
     On Friday, Zavos denounced Wilmut's method as "irresponsible," saying
the Scottish scientist failed to screen his embryos properly before planting
them in prospective mothers. Drawing on techniques used during the 23-year
history of test-tube babies, Zavos said, his team is perfecting a screening
method to identify which embryos will grow successfully and which are bound
to fail.
     "Before Columbus reached America, a lot of shipwrecks took place," he
said, acknowledging that there will be failures. But he said the failure
rate should be in line with that of test-tube babies--one successful birth
for every three or four tries.
     Dr. Robert P. Lanza, vice president of scientific development of
Advanced Cell Technology Inc. in Worcester, Mass., which has cloned cows and
goats, disputed the claim that Zavos and his team can screen for healthy
     "That's absolute nonsense. No one knows what's causing the problems,
let alone how to screen for them," he said. The statement that embryos can
be screened and the healthiest picked out "is insulting. The world's top
cloning experts have spent years trying to do exactly that."

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:59:41 MDT