At a National Academy of Sciences conference Tuesday were two researchers who have said they planned to attempt an experiment soon. But one scientist in attendance hinted that human cloning experiments were already under way in her lab, and defended it.
"We should not be the cause of public fears," Brigitte Boisselier said. "I am doing it in a very responsible manner."
Boisselier, a research scientist and director of a company called Clonaid, said reports of serious congenital defects and fetal death among cloned livestock have not swayed her determination to attempt to clone humans.
Her comments came during a hearing designed to allow academy committee members to gather information for a report on human cloning expected to be released next month.
Boisselier declined to confirm or deny that her company had cloned human embryos, but she told the committee her lab was able to identify cells that can be safely cloned and that she was "comfortable with those results."
"I am doing it and hope I can publish that soon and show it to you," she told the committee of experts.
She dismissed ethical concerns about reproductive human cloning, calling it "the arrogance of telling people what they should do with their own genes."
"We should be able to use our genes the way we want," said Boisselier. "It is your right to reproduce yourself using your genes."
Boisselier also told the committee that there is no need to refine the cloning technique with further animal research.
"I believe we have enough information to proceed with human cloning," she said. "I don't believe working with animal cloning will give us much more information."
Two other researchers, Panayiotis Michael Zavos, director of the Andrology Institute in Lexington, Ky., and Dr. Severino Antinori of the University of Rome, said they were continuing with human cloning research as a means of allowing infertile men to have children. However, they said they had not yet attempted to clone a human being.
The comments came during a day of angry exchanges between people on both sides of the cloning issue.
Stem Cell Research
While scientists gave testimony in the auditorium, people on opposing sides met in the stately lobby of the National Academy's building, and, under the glare of television lights, shouted at each other.
One side contended cloning was a human reproductive right; the other said it would be an unethical, perhaps dangerous form of human experimentation.
Animal researchers warned the cmmittee that cloning produces a high level of failures, with many animals dying before birth and others born with abnormalities.
"The most likely attempted outcome if they do attempt to copy a person would be late abortions, dead babies, and worst of all children that were alive but abnormal," said Ian Wilmut, the scientist behind the 1997 cloning breakthrough with Dolly the sheep.
In cloning, genes from an adult cell are implanted into a human egg from which all the genetic material has been removed. The egg is then cultured into an embryo and implanted in the womb of the mother. The offspring would have only the genes from the adult cell. The result would be a genetic duplicate of the cell donor.
The House of Representatives last week passed a ban on cloning, both for research and reproductive purposes. The Food and Drug Administration has prohibited human cloning in the United States.
President Bush, meanwhile, is readying a controversial decision on whether to allow federal funding for stem cell research, which does not usually involve cloning but touches on some of the same moral questions.
Aides say the president, currently vacationing in Texas, could announced his decision any day on whether to fund research involve cells taken from embryos discarded by fertility clinics.
Because stem cells are more adaptable than adult cells, doctors believe they could be used to develop treatments for diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. But some abortion rights opponents say destroying embryos is immoral.
The stem cell and cloning issues overlap to some degree because the embryos from which stem cells are harvested could be cloned.
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