Seed plants an idea

January 23, 1998

Within a week of physicist Richard Seed publicising his plans to clone humans for infertile couples, President Bill Clinton, the US Congress and French President Jacques Chirac were calling for a ban.

At a stroke, one "mad scientist", as the US health secretary branded him, had forced an end to political quibbling by making legislation a necessity.Only the UK and Germany have laws which prevent human cloning. But some scientists fear that tough legislation might cut off rich veins of research into human genetics. The UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has indicated that there may be "potential benefits" in allowing research into human cloning.

But even those who support the idea in principle have baulked at Seed's suggestion that a cloned human baby could be born in about two years. Dolly was the result of nearly 300 unsuccessful attempts - the equivalent in human terms would be countless miscarriages, stillbirths, and children born with severe abnormalities for every healthy baby born.

But the debate is not over. The American Association for the Advancement of Science plans to discuss the "Rights and wrongs of cloning humans". Chairing next month's session will be Surrey University's professor of science and engineering ethics, Raymond Spier. He argues that techniques for cloning humans are simply "tools", and like other tools, they can be used for good or evil.

"We should seek to investigate the possibility of cloning individuals who have contributed in an exceptional way to society," says Spier, suggesting that the Nobel prize lists might be a place to look for candidates.

Wendy McGoodwin, director of the Council for Genetic Responsibility argues, however, that cloning threatens society. "It embodies the view of a human life as an object and it is not in the interests of society to promote such an attitude."

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