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Scientists Urge U.S. to Ban Human Cloning

Panel says practice is 'dangerous and likely to fail'

FRIDAY, Jan. 18, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Cloning to make carbon-copy babies "is dangerous and likely to fail" and should be banned for the immediate future, says a new report from a government advisory panel that examined the controversial technology.

The panel, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, says cloned offspring -- produced through a process called nuclear transplantation -- are prone to the same genetic and physical problems that have afflicted animal clones. And, the panel adds, women who provide the eggs and carry the pregnancies are also at risk of serious, even fatal health problems.

The practice should be prohibited by law and bear "substantial penalties" until proven safe and until society is willing to accept it, says the panel, which calls for a review of the science and societal climate within five years. However, the panel adds that its concerns don't apply to therapeutic cloning and the generation of stem cells that may help treat such ailments as diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson's.

With animal cloning, "the frequency of successes is astonishingly low, and that's even to carry a cloned [embryo] through to birth," says Dr. Irving L. Weissman, a Stanford University biologist who chaired the group. "There's no reason to believe that if it were to be carried out with human cells that the process today would be any better." The sheer numbers of human eggs needed to produce clones "stretch the boundaries of imagination," Weissman adds.

Although the panelists were unanimous in their recommendation, Dr. Mark Siegler, a University of Chicago physician and ethicist and a member of the panel, says the call for an outright ban generated "unease" among panel members. Such a recommendation, he adds, is an "extraordinary" step, because scientists typically oppose blocking any avenue of research. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill banning human cloning; governments of other countries, including Japan and parts of Europe, have either implemented or are considering similar moves.

The panel members announced their report at a press conference today. Meanwhile, a task force created by President Bush is also meeting to discuss what to do about human cloning. Bush opposes the practice, as do many members of Congress, on moral and religious grounds.

The new report says society's religious and cultural views are important for policy makers to consider. But its objections to human cloning are grounded in science, particularly several pillars of evidence.

Reproductive cloning in animals has so far proven a chancy practice, with a low success rate and high odds that surviving offspring will be unhealthy or abnormal, the report says. There's also a significant risk of injury or death to women who donate eggs used in the process. Because cloning requires so many eggs, the risk is far greater than what women currently face in assisted reproduction therapies. And the women who carry cloned fetuses are also at risk of harm.

In addition, the panelists stressed that researchers don't yet have effective ways of testing cloned embryos for genetic errors. What's more, tests to monitor resulting fetuses are "incomplete or inadequate" to protect either the fetus or the woman carrying it, says panel member Maxine F. Singer, president of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C.

Some researchers have expressed their intent to make human clones, but none has yet been created, the panelists say. However, a Massachusetts biotechnology firm, Advanced Cell Technology, announced last year that it had produced very early-stage human embryos through nuclear transfer from adult cells.

What To Do

For more on the report, try the National Academy of Sciences.

For more on how researchers make clones, try How Stuff Works. For a pro-cloning perspective, visit the Human Cloning Foundation.

To learn more about stem cells, try the National Institutes of Health, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCES: Webcast news conference with Irving L. Weissman, M.D., professor of cancer biology, cell and developmental biology, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif., Mark Siegler, M.D., professor of medicine and director, MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago, and Maxine F. Singer, Ph.D., president, Carnegie Institution of Washington, chair, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, The National Academies, Washington, D.C.; Jan. 18, 2002, cloning report, National Academy of Sciences
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