UK scientists oppose baby cloning project

November 23, 2001

British experts in human reproductive health overwhelmingly oppose Severino Antinori's plans to clone a baby but a minority feel the results could still be scientifically useful.

Twelve academics responded to a THES questionnaire after the Italian scientist announced he wanted to work in the United Kingdom.

This followed a High Court ruling that existing legislation did not apply to cloning techniques. The government has said it will close the loophole this week.

The 12 respondents said they opposed Professor Antinori's work because of the risks to mother and child and its failure to acknowledge broad ethical opposition.

Animal cloning has had low success rates and unacceptable levels of abnormalities in the offspring, although it was announced today that 24 healthy cloned cattle have been created in the United States.

"More basic science and animal work is required," one scientist said.

The experts disagreed about the validity of Professor Antinori's science. Three said his results would be useful regardless of success, while two were equivocal.

One said: "Of course the results would be useful - if published honestly with due scientific standards." A second agreed but added: "This does not justify the work."

But most felt the research would be useless. One leading figure said: "The proposal to clone a human being is not science in the sense I understand it."

He feared it would "damage the reputation of reproductive medicine and science, which could set back research and treatment due to public reaction and political fall-out".

Nine of the respondents felt Professor Antinori would find it difficult to publish his results in a peer-reviewed journal as ethical approval would be required.

Nevertheless, only three scientists felt human reproductive cloning would not become socially acceptable within the next 50 years.

* The House of Lords stem-cells select committee has heard that the UK risks becoming an international outcast if it allows human embryo stem-cell research.

Lord Alton, a member of the all party parliamentary pro-life group, said Britain could find itself in difficulties if the United Nations outlawed human cloning.

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