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Conference Discusses Science and Ethics of Human Cloning

In Washington today two doctors are expected to tell the National Academy of Sciences that they are proceeding with their plans to clone a human being--perhaps within the next 2 years. Dr. Emily Senay has a look at their plans.

Despite the ethical considerations, criticism of their methods, and efforts to ban human cloning altogether, two fertility specialists are expected to announce their intention to impregnate as many as 200 women with cloned human embryos.

Italian fertility specialist Dr. Severino Aantinori and his colleague Panos Zavos, PhD, of the University of Kentucky have already made it clear that they believe the science of human cloning will provide new hope for infertile couples. Zavos testified before a congressional committee debating human cloning issues earlier this year.

"We are talking, Mr. Chairman, about the development of a technology that can help people," said Zavos in his testimony. "We are talking about the development of a technology that can give an infertile and childless couple the right to reproduce and have a child and above all complete its life cycle."

They say human cloning is inevitable since the technology already exists in hundreds of in vitro fertilization labs around the world.

The doctors plan to take a donor cell from the male of an infertile couple and combine it with a female egg that has had its genetic material removed. A jolt of electricity would stimulate the new cell to divide, becoming an embryo. Carried to term, the baby born would be genetically identical to the father.

Although the science of cloning has come a long way since Dolly the sheep, many argue that it is still far from perfect.

"Cloning turns out to produce dead, stillborn, damaged, or diseased animals. Nine out of ten times the embryos don't work when they begin to grow. Half of them wind up as stillborn or deformed fetuses, and even if the animal is born alive some drop dead for unknown reasons and some are simply carrying diseases," says Dr. Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist.

The National Academy of Sciences will be hearing views from both sides of the human cloning debate in preparation for a report on whether a moratorium should be imposed on such research. The House of Representatives recently voted to ban human cloning.
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