Dawkins: I'd let daughter be cloned

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THE CONTROVERSIAL biologist Richard Dawkins has pitched into a fresh ethical debate by saying he would not object to his own daughter being cloned.

Though he admitted that the first child to be cloned "would be a very unusual individual and might be laughed at in school", he said these were "not major problems".

Professor Dawkins, of Oxford University, claimed that the process of cloning was really no different from the natural way in which a fertilised egg splits in the womb to produce twins.

"Anybody who objects to cloning on principle has to answer to all the identical twins in the world who might be insulted by the thought that there's something offensive about their very existence. Clones are simply identical twins," he said.

He told a BBC World Service programme to be broadcast tomorrow that he would be "delighted" if he could have a cherished pet cloned: "If I had a dog that I loved, and if this dog was getting old and might die soon, to have a young clone of it would be perfectly delightful."

Professor Dawkins achieved fame for his 1976 book The Selfish Gene - which proposed a gene-centred view of evolution - and for his attacks on religion and astrology. Concern from religious groups has led in the US to bans on government funding for human cloning. Europe similarly has backed a ban on human cloning, pending ethical consideration.

Professor Dawkins has no such doubts. Asked on the radio programme Agenda if he would be prepared to clone his daughter, he said: "If I have somebody that I love, and if there was some particularly good reason to have an identical twin... that's all it is. There's nothing new about it."

Cloning takes the complete DNA from an adult cell and puts it into an empty egg cell. Under certain conditions that will grow into a full adult - as with Dolly the sheep, produced from the udder cells of an adult. Dolly's DNA is an exact match of that of her "parent".

But identical twins also have identical DNA, because they come from the splitting of one fertilised egg in the womb. Yet identical twins do not show identical behaviour, as several studies have shown.

"The only really deep reason people have for objecting to such a thing is that it offends some deep-seated sense - what's been called the `yuk' reaction. It's irrational," Professor Dawkins added. He also suggested human cloning could help childless couples.