Human Cloning Inevitable, National Panel Told

WASHINGTON, DC, August 8, 2001 (ENS) - The contentious matter of cloning human beings was the focus of a blue ribbon panel hearing in Washington on Tuesday. A joint panel of the National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy and the Board on Life Sciences has undertaken a review of the scientific and medical research on human cloning and related issues of scientific and medical ethics.

The panel will assess the current status of animal cloning, including outcomes of previous trials. The members will determine whether knowledge of assisted reproductive technologies can be applied to cloning a human. They will outline criteria that should be used to evaluate the safety of human cloning and public policy issues, including responsible conduct of research.

The panel will recommend a process for evaluating future research and address whether there should be a moratorium on human cloning.

Zavos

Panayiotis Zavos (Photo courtesy Andrology Institute of America)
At its first information gathering meeting in Washington on Tuesday, Panayiotis Zavos, an infertility specialist from the Andrology Institute of America in Lexington, Kentucky, said, "Almost everyone agrees that this technology inevitably will be developed by someone in the very near future." He criticized other scientists and scientific journals for publishing information about human cloning that is "confusing and untrue."

Zavos is collaborating with Dr. Severino Antinori of Italy on the development of human cloning. He views the technology as a way to "eventually allow infertile couples to safely have healthy, genetically related children through somatic cell nuclear transfer technology," the technical name for cloning.

Dr. Antinori, director of the International Associated Research Institute and one of the pioneers of assisted reproduction in Italy, announced in July that he is ready to start the cloning of human beings. At a cloning symposium organized in Rome by the University of La Sapienza and the Italian Society of Reproductive Medicine, Antinori said the date to venture out on this new road will be decided in October in a congress in Monte Carlo.

The list of those aspiring to give life to their own clones will number in the hundreds, he told the symposium delegates. In Italy there are 50 people who want to be cloned and another 600 in the United States.

Zavos who was also present at the Italian symposium, said, "It is our intention to use this science to the benefit of people who suffer, we will be responsible."

Before the panel in Washington, Antinori challenged the expertise of scientists who have done animal cloning. He was challenged in turn to be specific about the screening and diagnostic testing he and his colleagues will use in human cloning.

The hearing came just days after the House of Representatives voted to ban the creation of cloned human embryos in the United States. The Senate has not yet voted on the issue.

Charo

R. Alta Charo (Photo courtesy University of Wisconsin)
Attorney R. Alta Charo told the panel that avenues for the control of human cloning are criminalization, regulation or law reform. Holder of a joint faculty appointment in the Medical and Law Schools at the University of Wisconsin, Charo is a member of the Program in Medical Ethics and a consultant to federal agencies on research on embryos, reproductive issues and the influence of the genome project on reproductive choice.

Several states have already criminalized reproductive cloning, she explained. "The trick here," she said, "is to have adequate definitional sections - to avoid criminalizing so-called cytoplasmic rejuvenation - and to survive constitutional challenge based on right to procreate.

Criminalization of research cloning in a bill now before the House of Representatives (HR 2505) also would need to survive constitutional challenges based on lack of federal jurisdiction under the commerce clause and based on a right to do research, Charo said.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could regulate if its authority is upheld or clarified and extended by federal legislation. FDA authority is generally limited to issues of safety and so, she said, is not easily responsive to other social concerns.

States could change their laws, adopting liability rules rendering professionals strictly liable for any bad birth outcome related to conception by cloning. The prospect of liability should deter most professionals, as few insurers would be willing to offer coverage under these circumstances, Charo pointed out.

The hearing covered only the scientific and medical and regulatory aspects of cloning and did not hear presentations on the ethical issues.