Severino Antinori (main picture) and Panos Michael Zavos are pioneers of reproductive cloning and, as befits their controversial status, public opinion about the men could not be more diverse. Hailed as miracle workers by some and monsters by others, they are seen as the last hope for many childless couples, while being condemned by the Vatican and called "reckless" by Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, which cloned Dolly the sheep.
This week, the pair appeared before an investigative committee of the US National Academies of Science in Washington to argue that human reproductive cloning is ethical and practically achievable. Ian Wilmut from Roslin will also be at the meeting.
The NAS panel aims to assess the state of cloning technology for a public discussion document to be published in four months.
Professor Antinori runs an infertility research centre and clinic in Rome. He predicts that he will complete the first human cloning operation within 18 months, but he risks being banned from practising medicine in Italy if he pursues his plans. As a result, he wants to carry out the procedure in an unnamed Mediterranean country or on a boat in international waters.
Professor Zavos, who works closely with Professor Antinori, is professor emeritus of reproductive physiology-andrology at the University of Kentucky and founder, director and chief andrologist of the Andrology Institute of America. He is also president and chief executive of ZDL Inc, which markets infertility products and technologies.
The scientists plan to use the technology involved in creating Dolly, injecting genetic material from the father into the mother's egg and implanting the embryo in the mother's womb. They say that they will only use the technique to help infertile couples with no other way of becoming parents and that they only want to make people happy. The men argue that if they do not succeed in cloning a human soon, someone else will.
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