Barnoness Mary Warnock, who shaped Britain's laws on human fertilisation and embryology, last night said she doubted a US medical research company had managed to clone the world's first baby.
"I don't believe it," said Lady Warnock. "I would need some evidence."
Her scepticism fuels serious doubts that Clonaid, a company affiliated to the Raelian religious cult, has created a clone. Clonaid said on Friday that a 31-year-old American woman had given birth on Boxing Day to Eve, a cloned baby, in an undisclosed country. The woman's skin and eggs were fused to create a viable human embryo that had not been fertilised by sperm.
But whatever the truth behind the claims, the controversy over human cloning will not go away. Next month a patient of Severino Antinori, a controversial fertility expert, is due, according to the Italian doctor, to give birth to a cloned baby in Belgrade, Serbia. Yesterday Dr Antinori confirmed preparations were under way for the birth in January and said this would be followed by two more births five and six weeks later in two other countries.
The doctor, who helped a 63-year-old woman to become pregnant using a donor egg in 1994, has said that he intends cloning humans only in cases of total male sterility.
Yesterday Raelian's UK president, Glen Carter, insisted scientific evidence would be produced to prove Eve was the world's first cloned baby. He rejected suggestions that independent experts should have been allowed to monitor the pregnancy. "I don't think the security of the mother carrying the child would have been guaranteed had people outside the Clonaid company been aware of the whereabouts and the circumstances of the birth," he said. Opening up Clonaid's labs would have played into the hands of the US Food and Drug Administration which had already tried to shut them down, he said.
However, advancements in genetic science have prompted world leaders to call for a debate into the serious medical, moral and ethical doubts around cloning. The UK government, which banned the creation of cloned human babies in 2001, is backing attempts by the United Nations to outlaw human cloning worldwide. The Department of Health said cloning was a "misuse of genetic science".
Dr Ian Gibson, Labour chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, voiced suspicions that the cult was using the cloning claims for publicity but urged a debate on the issue of cloning. "These technologies ... are raising new moral and ethical morasses for us and we need to debate it seriously over a period," he said.
Dr Jenny Tonge, Liberal Democrat MP and a former specialist in reproductive health, said Clonaid's claims made her "feel rather sick", adding there was no evidence that the methods were safe and that infertility techniques were "very skewed towards adults, not unborn children".
She said: "It is far too young a technique to be doing on human beings even if it is desirable – and I don't think it is. We have to have another debate about human cloning and a wider debate about all the infertility techniques."
Leading scientists have also questioned the motives of medics involved in human cloning as well as the veracity of their claims.
Dr Harry Griffin, head of the Roslin Institute which cloned Dolly the sheep, said scepticism was "entirely justified" and that cloning humans was "irresponsible". He added: "You have to take these claims with a very large pinch of salt. In terms of whether or not we would approve of what they are doing, the straight answer is 'no'."
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