Human cloning pioneer dismisses ethical doubts

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The Independent Online
The US scientist who plans to set up the world's first Human Clone Clinic said yesterday he could see nothing wrong with producing endless identical human beings. Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor, asks if he is likely to succeed.

Richard Seed, the physicist who wants to offer infertile couples the chance to clone an identical twin of themselves, said yesterday he regretted not having contacted Mother Teresa before she died last summer for a sample of her blood from which to produce a replica saint.

The Chicago scientist, who is little known in reproductive circles but has done fertility research in the past, claimed to have four couples willing to go ahead with the experiments. "Any new subject creates fear. It doesn't matter whether it's reproduction or automobiles," he said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The procedure would involve taking an unfertilised egg from the woman's ovary, removing its nucleus containing the DNA and replacing it with the nucleus of an adult cell taken from the man or the woman, or a third party. The resulting child would be the identical twin of its "parent", but 30 to 40 years younger.

Mr Seed will need the co-operation of a doctor, to remove the egg and replace the cloned embryo, and a clinic with the right equipment to realise his ambition to set up a chain of 20 cloning clinics around the country.

He claimed to be in negotiation with one clinic, which he declined to name, but said the doctor involved had agreed to co-operate only with the consent of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the society said human cloning was unacceptable and it had called for a voluntary five- year moratorium while further animal and DNA research was carried out. "We are not ready to do it in human beings and it should not be pursued," he said.

However, in the UK, consultations led by the Human Genetics Advisory Commission are to begin this year into whether human cloning should be permitted for experimental purposes.

Although human cloning is effectively banned under the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, as it is in most European countries, Ruth Deech, chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority argued in a hearing before the Commons Science and Technology Committee last year that possible benefits from human cloning would never be realised if a total prohibition on research were imposed.

She ruled out the production of human beings as "banks" to provide organs or bone marrow for transplant, or as "consolation" for bereaved parents who wished to reproduce a loved child. However, a possible application that might be acceptable was in the treatment of sufferers from a rare inherited disorder of the mitochondria - the "power-plant" of the cell - which surround the nuclei of cells and which can cause blindness and epilepsy.

By removing the nucleus - minus the defective mitochondria - from an embryo created by in-vitro fertilisation in the normal way and placing it in a donated egg stripped of its own nucleus , a cloned baby could be created that would be the genetic offspring of its parents without the disorder. Other potential applications were likely to become evident over the next five years, she said.

A spokesman for the authority said that, in contrast to research of this kind, Mr Seed's reference to Mother Teresa demonstrated the dangers of allowing cloning to develop unfettered. "Deliberately creating a copy of an existing human being undermines the autonomy of the individual. What sort of life would a baby produced in this way have?"