US scientist wants to clone babies for infertile couples

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A Chicago-area scientist is poised to start experiments on cloning human beings to create babies for infertile couples, National Public Radio (NPR) reported yesterday. It said that Richard Seed, a physicist who has done fertility research in the past, was proposing setting up a clinic that would clone babies.

"It is my objective to set up a Human Clone Clinic in greater Chicago, here, make it a profitable fertility clinic and, when it is profitable, to duplicate it in 10 or 20 other locations around the country and maybe five or six international," Mr Seed told NPR.

NPR said that Mr Seed had been negotiating with a clinic in the Chicago area, which it declined to name, that had all the equipment needed to try the procedure.

Mr Seed could not be immediately reached for comment. NPR said he was working with a medical doctor who declined to be named, but who said he would not go ahead with experiments unless the American Society for Reproductive Medicine cleared it. The group currently opposes human cloning.

President Bill Clinton has proposed banning such research for five years, saying it was morally unacceptable and could undermine society's respect for human life. He said the legislation, which would have to be passed by Congress, would not prohibit the cloning of human DNA or of animals, arguing this did not pose the same moral questions and could lead to great medical and agricultural advances.

While the legislation is pending, Mr Clinton said the ban on using federal funds to clone humans would stay in effect and he called on the private sector to voluntarily refrain from it.

Similar reactions came from the Vatican, the European Union, and many governments.

Polls taken shortly after the announcement of the cloning of Dolly the sheep by scientists at Scotland's Roslin Institute and the associated PPL Therapeutics Inc last year showed 90 per cent of Americans opposed human cloning. But some fertility experts say cloning offers hope and opportunities for medicine.

Lord Robert Winston, who helped pioneer test-tube fertilization in Britain, called Mr Clinton's reaction "knee-jerk" and said the technology offered hope to many infertile couples.

Mr Seed proposes using this same technique that was used on Dolly, which involves taking an unfertilized egg from a female, removing the nucleus, which contains most of the genetic information, and replacing it with the nucleus of an adult cell.

- Reuters, Washington