In the wake of the alleged birth of the world's first-ever clone baby, scientists and religious leaders in Germany call for a global ban on human cloning.
An army of me?
German scientists, politicians and churches have strongly criticized claims by an American company that a woman gave birth to the world's first cloned baby on Thursday and say they are skeptical of the veracity of the claim.
The chairman of the council of Protestant Churches in Germany, Manfred Kock, described the development as "crossing the line," saying the cloning of humans was "morally reprehensible and absurd medically."
Paving the way for "Frankenstein horror doctors"
Taking specific aim at Clonaid, the company linked to the Raelian UFO religious sect -- whose primary belief is that humans were created by aliens -- Kock said the world needed no "Frankenstein horror doctors who create cloned humans but rather responsible doctors who cure illnesses."
Spiros Simitis, head of Germany's National Ethics Council which advises the government on stem-cell research policies, said the production of a cloned human is "completely irresponsible."
Meanwhile, DFG, the German research foundation, repeated its statement that reproductive and therapeutic cloning of humans is "highly morally reprehensible" and called for a global ban on human cloning. The organization said it did not believe Clonaid's claim, but that if it were true it would be "fully irresponsible -- both scientifically and morally."
DFG spokeswoman Eva-Maria Streier told the German Protestant news agency EPD that scientists here had serious doubts about the veracity of Clonaid's announcement, saying cloning technology is not yet sophisticated enough for the replication of humans. She noted that it took 286 attempts to get the sheep pregnant that carried the clone "Dolly." The research organization also warned that attempts to clone humans would likely lead to the birth of "many handicapped children."
The German Bishops Conference has decried the cloning of human beings as "one of the most condemnable violations against human dignity." And the initiative Stop PID and Cloning (for pre-implantations and cloning) has stated its concern that the sole purpose of cloned humans would be to use them as "raw materials for healing the originals." And Hans van der Ven, a prominent reproductive doctor at the University of Bonn, has decried cloning as an "irresponsible experiment with human life."
A raging debate
On Friday, Clonaid researcher Brigitte Boisselier announced in Florida the birth of the world's first-ever clone baby. The company has not offered any proof but has said it will allow independent researchers to conduct genetic testing of the baby girl, named "Eve," in order to confirm its assertion.
There is currently no world-wide ban on human cloning, but it is forbidden in most countries. Experts warn that the consequences of cloning are incalculable -- and the few successful attempts that have been undertaken have been riddled with genetic errors. For example: Dolly, the sheep cloned in 1997, has developed early arthritis. Cloned mice live relatively short lives and become unusually overweight in their later years.
Cloning researcher George Seidel at Colorado State University says the success rate in animal cloning is only two percent -- meaning for every 50 animals cloned, only two would be successful. "That may be acceptable for cattle," he says, "but it's surely not for human children."
The debate over the morality and ethics of human cloning has been roaring since Italian doctor Severino Antinori (photo) announced, separately, in April that the first cloned baby would be born in January 2003. But doubt also looms over Antinori's claims.
"It is assumed worldwide that Mr. Antinori lacks the scientific capacity," says Markus Montag, chairman of the German Working Group on Human Reproduction Biology. Montag notes that current cloning technologies are inefficient and that researchers would need to use thousands of egg cells from hundreds of women. "It's hardly possible that Antinori would be able to do something like that on the quiet," he said.
Seeking a global ban
Germany and France together introduced a proposal for a global ban on cloning humans for reproductive purposes at the United Nations, but negotiations have been stalled until September 2003 under strong resistance from the United States, Spain and the Philippines, who thought the resolution wasn't restrictive enough.