Thursday, May 16, 2002

Human cloning predicted this year

Doctor testifies woman will be pregnant soon

By Janelle Carter
The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — A Kentucky doctor said he expects to have made a woman pregnant with a cloned embryo by the end of the year even as lawmakers scramble to prevent scientists from cloning humans.

        “A pregnancy can take place this year,” Dr. Panayiotis Zavos, of Lexington told a House Government Reform subcommittee Wednesday. “This is not the time to panic and try to turn back the clock. The genie is already out of the bottle. Let's make sure it works for us, not against us.”

        Rep. Dave Weldon, a physician who has pushed for a ban on all cloning, retorted that the procedure is “a threat to society.”

        “This is no time for half-measures,” said Mr. Weldon, R-Fla. “We must pass an effective ban.”

        The House last year passed a bill that would ban all cloning. In the Senate, debate has been delayed until June while lawmakers consider two bills, one to enact a total ban on cloning, the other to allow cloning for research. Aides estimate about 18 senators remain undecided.

        Dr. Zavos said he expects the pregnancy to happen at one of two clinics he runs in undisclosed locations outside the United States. He claims to have 12 couples from around the world who are candidates for the procedure. Some are Americans, Dr. Zavos said, and five couples include at least one physician each.

        During an appearance before Congress last year, Dr. Zavos made similar predictions to create a human clone within months.

        Lawmakers on both sides of the debate have maintained they are against what Dr. Zavos wants to do: implant a cloned embryo into a woman to produce a baby.

        Those pushing to allow cloning for research have argued the procedure could lead to cures for an array of diseases. Opponents argue that a cloned embryo is a human even before implantation in a womb, and to destroy it for research would be immoral.

        The Justice Department issued a statement at the hearing arguing that allowing cloning for research would be “problematic and pose certain law-enforcement challenges.”

        Daniel Bryant, an assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, wrote to the committee that since thousands of babies are produced by in-vitro fertilization each year, “There does not seem to be any reliable means for determining the difference between a fertilized embryo and a cloned embryo.”

        “For all we know, these embryos are biologically indistinguishable,” Mr. Bryant wrote.

        Adding to the problem if research cloning were allowed, Mr. Bryant said, is how the government would handle a woman who had received a cloned embryo. “Once a pregnancy were established,” Mr. Bryant said, “any government-directed attempt to terminate a cloned embryo in utero would create problems enormous and complex.”


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