The Meeting of
The National Academy of Sciences
on Human Cloning

"Recently (August 2001), the issue of human cloning surfaced in the media after being relatively dormant for more than three years. Recall that in January of 1998, Dr. Richard Seed announced on National Public Radio that he intended to clone a human being (see Jupiter Scientific's report on this). The announcement created an uproar as people debated the ethical and scientific issues. Dr. Seed's proposal has subsequently been viewed as unfeasible, and he is now regarded by many as a renegade rabble-rouser.

     On August 7, the National Academy of Sciences convened to discuss the science of cloning. In an effort to be impartial, the organization invited some proponents of human cloning. Among them was Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, a chemist who belongs to a religious sect, called the Raelians, who explicitly support the cloning of humans. She believes that cloning is a basic human right and that one should be allowed to use one's genes anyway one wants. She directs a company in the Bahamas, which is undertaking cloning research.

     Another proponent, Dr. Panayiotis Michael Zavos, wants to use cloning to help infertile couples who are unable to conceive by any other method. He has set up a laboratory in Kentucky.

     Joining the above two as someone who wants to undertake human cloning is Dr. Severino Antinori, an Italian fertility specialist. In the mid 1990's, he made the headlines when he helped a 62-year-old woman have a baby using in vitro fertilization.

     Others at the National Academy of Sciences Symposium were opposed to human cloning efforts. Even Dr. Ian Wilmut, who helped clone Dolly the sheep in 1997, feels that it is too dangerous to proceed because of the wide range of birth abnormalities seen in mammalian cloning. In addition to sheep, some goats, pigs, mice and cows have been cloned in the past few years, but about a fifth of the mice and a third of the goats have died. Of those offspring that survived, many were born with serious defects.

     One difficulty in controlling cloning in the US or in any country is that cloning activists have threatened to carry out their operations offshore. This month, France and Germany joined in requesting that the United Nations impose a worldwide ban on the cloning of humans. The Germans actually banned human cloning in their country more than 10 years ago, while France intends to introduce such legislation. In the US, the House of Representatives voted to ban cloning in July.

     Those that oppose cloning are very much afraid that laws will not prevent certain radical individuals from attempting to clone a human. They note that murder is illegal but that does not prevent people from senselessly killing others. Undoubtedly, the issue of human cloning will surface again and again in the first century of the new millennium.

This update was prepared by the staff of Jupiter Scientific, an organization devoted to the promotion of science and scientific education through books, the Internet and other means of communication.

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