Scientists condemn first baby 'cloning'

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The Independent Online

Scientists and ethicists called yesterday for the maverick Italian doctor Severino Antinori to be outlawed by the world medical community, after he pressed ahead with his human cloning project.

Professor Antinori, who runs a private gynaecological clinic in Rome, claimed at a genetics conference in Abu Dhabi earlier this week that one of his female patients was now eight weeks pregnant with a cloned foetus.

His announcement, which has not yet been verified, provoked widespread criticism and scepticism from other scientists. He refused to disclose where the woman lives or allow independent scrutiny of his work.

Condemnation hardened further yesterday, as ethicists called for Professor Antinori, 57, to be expelled from international medical bodies, and barred from publishing findings in respected journals.

A leading supporter of human cloning research, the philosopher Bernard Crick, said he was a "fool" for pressing ahead without sufficient laboratory research and safety testing.

Professor Antinori makes uncorroborated announcements at conferences rather than through respected journals, and seeks to side-step legal bans on human cloning, causing widespread anger.

Dr Richard Nicholson, the editor of the Bulletin of Medical Ethics, said: "The scientific community should make clear to him that he is now an outlaw. No responsible journal should publish any of his work. If he is a member of any national or international medical organisations, he should be stripped of his membership."

His calls were supported by Dr Sue Mayer, from the genetics campaign group Genewatch. "Science is meant to have it norms and ethics. It has to be self-policing, so scientists have to act as their own watch-dogs," she said.

Professor Crick was one of five British philosophers and scientists to sign a declaration defending research on human cloning released by the Council for Secular Humanism. He said Professor Antinori's behaviour could be very damaging to cloning. "He has a right to do what he's doing, but I think he's irresponsible and a fool to exercise this right until much more research has been done.

"I trust the consensus of the scientific community that there's immense potential benefit from cloning research, but it can be easily discredited at this stage by what seem to be the antics of a showman."

Animal cloning trials have low success rates and suggest that clones develop early signs of ageing, such as Dolly the Sheep's arthritis. Implanting mature cells into the nucleus of a new cell is likely to increase the risks of ageing and physical defects, geneticists fear, assuming the foetus survives.

Professor Antinori, who first hit the headlines after helping a 62-year-old woman conceive in 1994, was unavailable for comment. However, Italian political, medical and religious leaders united in their condemnation of his project and indicated that Professor Antinori could face disciplinary or legal action.