Professor Severino Antinori said at the weekend that he would consider leaving Italy, where cloning experiments are banned, if he could find another country where he could carry out the initial animal research.
The report of his plan in the Sunday Times said he would only use the technology on men unable to father children because they do not produce sperm. Professor Severino Antinori is the latest eminent scientist to argue that human cloning is a way of helping infertile couples who cannot have their own biological children by the established techniques of in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Human cloning is illegal in Britain under the law governing the licensing of IVF clinics, but the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has begun a consultation process with interested groups to establish the ethical concerns and to consider whether cloning may be allowed under strictly controlled guidelines.
Several scientists, such as Professor Lewis Wolpert of University College London and Lord Winston, the IVF pioneer, have said that anxieties about creating exact replicas of a cloned person are misplaced because the clones would be brought up, from the womb onwards, in different environments, which would make them less alike than identical twins reared in the same family.
Professor Antinori said he is seeking the support of his peers before he goes ahead with his alleged plans to be the first to clone a human being, but he is unlikely to receive this until ethical authorities in Europe and the United States have formulated their position on the future use of cloning technology.
One cloning expert said it is unlikely that a maverick IVF researcher, such as Richard Seed, the American scientist who has also said he wants to clone humans, could establish a realistic research programme in cloning without the international scientific community knowing about it.
However, while the social, ethical and moral implications of human cloning are being debated, the fear is that a scientist with the technical ability and money might be persuaded to attempt the cloning of a wealthy person. One Texas millionaire is already paying scientists to clone his dog.
There are, nevertheless, still considerable technical difficulties to overcome before scientists could contemplate the cloning of a human being, although most experts accept that if enough effort and resources were applied to the problems they might be solved within a few years.
Ian Wilmut, one of the scientists at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh who cloned Dolly the sheep, told a Commons committee last year that the technical hurdles are not insurmountable and that it might be possible to clone humans within two years, although he has repeatedly emphasised that he is opposed to this on ethical grounds.
The cloning technique pioneered by the Roslin Institute involved removing the nucleus of an adult sheep cell - which contains the genetic blueprint necessary to create the animal - and implanting it into an unfertilised egg.Reuse content