US Scientist Claims to Have Implanted 11 Cloned Embryos



April 28, 2009

By Hilary White

April 27, 2009 ( – A US reproductive scientist claims to have cloned 14 human embryos and transferred 11 of them into 4 women. Although Dr. Panayiotis Zavos told media last week that the experiment had failed to establish a successful pregnancy, he intends to continue his work to create cloned human embryos for full-term gestation. Zavos’ claim was backed up by a documentary filmmaker who said he recorded the procedures.

“There is absolutely no doubt about it, and I may not be the one that does it, but the cloned child is coming. There is absolutely no way that it will not happen,” Dr. Zavos said.

“If we intensify our efforts, we can have a cloned baby within a year or two,” he said. In 2004, Dr. Zavos claimed to have transferred a cloned human embryo into a woman’s womb, but did not produce evidence at the time to back up the claim.

A segment of the film depicting the recent procedures made available to the press shows Dr. Zavos, dressed in surgical scrubs and sitting at a microscope, interspersed with photos of what appear to be cells. The footage featured in a documentary aired Wednesday on the Discovery Channel in Britain.

“We managed to write chapter one,” Zavos said. “Chapter two, we will have a child a parent can take home and raise as a cloned child.”

Agence France Presse reported that the experiment was carried out in a secret location in the Middle East to avoid legislation in the US that bans “human cloning,” that is, “reproductive cloning.”

Ethicists and scientists were quick to condemn Zavos’ claim, maintaining that cloned human embryos cannot be created “safely.” The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) issued a statement calling attempts at “human cloning” unethical. The ASRM, however, in quoting a previous decision, employed the shorthand expression “human cloning” to mean only the creation of cloned embryos for purposes of reproduction, not the creation of human clones as such.

“As long as the safety of reproductive SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer) is uncertain, ethical issues have been insufficiently explored, and infertile couples have alternatives for conception, the use of reproductive SCNT by medical professionals does not meet standards of ethical acceptability.”

“Any attempt to create a cloned human embryo for gestation and birth is ethically, scientifically, and clinically unacceptable.”

Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of the English Catholic diocese of Lancaster was more comprehensive in his condemnation. He said in a statement released on Friday that if Dr. Zavos’ claims are true, his “actions are deeply repugnant for the future of humanity.”

Bishop O’Donohue said, “Cloning entails manipulating human life in ever more invasive ways, and this will lead to ‘making embryos to order,’ as well as other more and more serious abuses.”

But Zavos said, “We’re not going to be judged by the politicians or clergymen, but rather by the fertility or infertility patients that want a child of their own.”

“Those clones are going to vote for those politicians some day. And they will get to love them.”

Although the US has yet to enact federal legislation, the scientific community in the western world is largely united in its condemnation of cloning for “reproductive” purposes, maintaining that it is only the implantation of a cloned embryo, with the intention of bringing the child to term, that is “unethical.”

This consensus has established the concept, widely promoted in the media, that while “reproductive cloning” is dangerous and must be prohibited, “therapeutic” or experimental cloning in which the human embryos are destroyed before viability, is not only acceptable but necessary for the advancement of medical research. It has given rise in many western countries to “clone-and-kill” legislation that bans “reproductive cloning,” while allowing the creation of clones for experimentation, who must then, by law, be killed within a certain period after fertilization.

Bishop O’Donohue addressed what some ethicists have called this “fallacious dichotomy” in his statement, saying, “Those who support destructive embryo research while criticizing Zavos are laying themselves open to a charge of hypocrisy.”

“Embryo research,” the bishop continued, “which entails deliberately killing human embryos should never be allowed, and experience shows that once this key ethical principle is breached, it leads in turn to relentless demand for more and more embryos to be used in ever more debasing ways.”

But some bioethicists are beginning to move away from their previous absolute position against cloning for reproduction to a more pragmatic position. An article in the Independent last week said that the “ethics of human cloning centre on whether the technique is medically safe” for the mother and the child. Therefore, birth defects, growth abnormalities and possible unforeseen future health problems, as well as the large number of ova required in cloning experiments, are now considered among the very few ethical obstacles to bringing cloned human children to term.

Steve Connor wrote in the Independent on April 22, “This is the principal reason why most medical ethicists support the legal ban on human reproductive cloning in Britain. However, some also take the view that this is the only reason, and that human cloning would be ethical if the medical dangers could be shown to be on a par with the risks of a natural pregnancy and birth.”

Zavos is also reportedly engaged in experiments in creating human/animal hybrid clones using de-nucleated cow ova and genetic material from the blood cells of a deceased 10-year-old girl. Zavos claimed that this research was meant to help him understand the cloning process but that these embryos were not intended for implantation. Britain recently passed legislation specifically allowing the creation of human/cow embryos for this type of research.

Although considered a “maverick” and working without the consent of the greater part of the scientific community, Zavos is taken more seriously than the other vocal and publicity-seeking aspirant to the leadership of the “reproductive” cloning race – Italian Dr. Severino Antinori. Zavos has authored or co-authored more than 400 peer-review publications and serves as a Member of the International Advisory Committee of the Middle East Fertility Society, and is a past Board Member of the China Academy of Science.

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