Tuesday, 23 August 2011

What Lay People Should Know about Cloning – Ethical and Legal Issues (technical) [Part 3]

by Zad Datu

Preceeding linked article (Read first!):
What Lay People Should Know about Cloning – Animal Reproductive Cloning
What Lay People Should Know about Cloning – Other Types of Cloning
What Lay People Should Know about Cloning – Fear Fuelled Objections (opinion) [Part 1] [Part 2]

Return to [Part 1 (of 3)]
Return to [Part 2 (of 3)]

Human Cloning Attempts
Panayiotis Michael “Panos” Zavos from Kentucky Center of Reproductive Medicine & IVF, a Greek Cypriot from Cyprus and American citizen currently living in Lexington, Kentucky is an infertility expert who has devoted well over a quarter of a decade to academia and research and has had a long career performing IVF, whom later founded Zavos Organization in Lexington, has been saying since 2001 that the time to clone a human is already.

On 9th March 2001, Zavos alongside Severino Antinori, a controversial Italian gynaecologist and fertility doctor from Rome who have already made headlines when he enabled a 62-year-old woman, Rosanna Dell Corte from Canino, Italy to give birth on July 18, 1994, who became the oldest mother to give birth at that time, announced that they are fully prepared to perform therapeutic human cloning, seven months before the first human cloned embryo was successful, which did not even survive to the blasocyst stage. They even claimed to have rounded up a team of scientists and doctors who are ready to clone a baby by the end of 2002. Regardless of the risks known in the animal cloning experiments, Zavos and Antinori insist that it is safe to proceed with human cloning.

Zavos announced before the US Congressional committee Hearing on 15th of May, 2002 of his intention to clone a human being and that “There is every indication that 2002 will be the year of the clones,” but admitted that he may not be the first to succeed. He also suggested that the best way to deal with the risks of human cloning is to legalise and regulate it instead of banning it all together, as regardless of bans someone, somewhere will attempt human cloning.

Since then, there have been many controversial human cloning claims most of which were unconvincing as they lacked evidence, causing international uproars, scorned and condemned upon by mainstream scientists, described as irresponsible and misusing genetic science:
  • April 2002: Early in the month, Severino Antinori announced his claim at a genetic engineering conference at Abu Dhabi that a woman is 8 weeks pregnant with the world’s first human clone. No evidence was presented. Even his own former partner, Panos Zavos claims that there have been “no clones, no laboratory, no patients and no doctors to help him,” and this severed their affiliation. But Antinori later he claimed that he had no involvement in the pregnancies – plural, not singular – and that there were three women in their 9th, 7th and 6th week of pregnancy, which he got to know of from other doctors.
  • 27 December 2002: Brigitte Boisselier, a Raelean bishop (a religious cult with the belief that Earth life was created by an extraterrestrial species) and CEO of Clonaid (a human cloning company run by the cult) announced that a 31-year-old American woman gave birth to her own clone named Eve – another world’s first cloned human baby. With no surprise that no evidence was presented.
  • 17 January 2004: Zavos announced at a news conference in a central London hotel claimed to have implanted cloned embryos into a woman’s womb. Zavos said that it was too early to determine if the implantation is successful. Zavos published a paper on this procedure and claimed that the procedure was filmed by independent filmmaker, Peter Williams, and that DNA testing can be performed to confirm his claim. It was later revealed on 4th February that the attempt failed – that pregnancy did not take place.
In response to the numerous non credible claims, on January 21st 2004, the British scientific community and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) made a request to news editors in the UK not to give press coverage to Zavos’s cloning efforts and to “reconsider the prominence given to repeated claims by certain scientists that they have cloned a human being, including those made by Dr. Panos Zavos last weekend”.  The letter was signed by qualified scientists from many reputable institutions. Zavos took the effort to defend himself during the 31st August press conference later that year, which is meticulously presented in his webpage http://www.zavos.org/library/library_hfea.htm.
  • May 2004: Antinori restates his April 2002 claim of the three pregnancies at a press conference on reproductive technology in Rome still denying his involvement but that he only gave a ‘cultural and scientific contribution’ and confirming the births and that he knows they went well and confirming the fact exists whilst refusing to provide further details or evidence.
  • August 2004: Zavos claimed to have cloned human embryos once again, but from the DNA of two corpses belonging to victims of road accidents – Cady, an 11-year old girl and a 33-year old man – then implanting them into a woman’s womb, and once again it was filmed by Peter Williams and has published his work in an online medical journal run by one of the pioneers of IVF. Zavos later revealed that the surrogate mother failed be impregnated. Regardless of condemnations, Zavos sees himself to be helping families to create a genetic replica of loved ones who have passed away.
  • 2004 – 2006: Zavos have been publishing experimented on interspecies cloned embryos of human DNA from a man but an oocyte of a bovine (subfamily Bovinae, which includes cattle, bison, buffalo, yaks and antelopes) for research and practicing purposes as has been conducted by other scientists. He insists that he never intends to implant an interspecies clone for reproduction nor does he think it should ever be done.
  • Early March 2009: Antinori once again restates his 2002 claim, this time to Italy’s Oggi magazine, boastfully saying “I helped give birth to three children with the human cloning technique,” and “It involved two boys and a girl who are nine years old today,” adding and “they were born healthy and they are in excellent health now,” and that they are now living in Eastern Europe without providing evidence once again.
  • April 2009: Zavos attempted to clone Cady once again this time produce 14 embryos and implanted 11 of them into the wombs of 4 women who were paid up to £50,000, three of which were couples, one British, and the fourth was a single woman. As usual, no proof was provided nor did he submit any scientific publication. This again was filmed by Peter Williams (many of his films on Zavos procedure were presented on Discovery Channel) who testified the legitimacy of the procedure for reproductive purposes to The Independent adding that the women were genuinely hoping to become pregnant. But once again, all failed to achieve pregnancy. The location of the procedure is secret but is speculated to be in the Middle East.

Human Cloning Debates
Instead of allowing a sperm to fertilise with an egg, cloning uses a nucleus of a completely different kind of cell. Instead of having a sperm to fertilise the egg, electrocution is used. In cloning the chromosome of the ovum is removed and what else is removed along with that isn’t something we are entirely sure of.  Performing all these unnatural processes to produce and offspring is very likely to be of higher risk than that of natural processes. To assume safety is to be irresponsible, most scientists would say.

With the uncertainties of cloning we are yet to solve, cloning humans is just like using humans as guinea pigs for the cloning procedure. Even if the clones appear completely normal at the early stage of life, it is still very likely that abnormality and deformities as a result of cloning would appear in the later years of life, just as they do currently in animals. Zavos argues that since there already is a 3% - 4% of genetic abnormality for natural sexual reproduction, the imperfection from human cloning is just another form to live with.

Many dismiss Zavos’s TV documentary effort as simply attention seeking. Zavos argues that there is a demand for media coverage by the public in the field of human cloning and that advances in the technology should be presented to better inform the public to educate the public to decide for themselves whether they are against or for reproductive cloning. He states that many oppose human cloning out of the fear of what they do not know. Zavos, who claims to have inquiries from around 100 potential patients, truly believes that human cloning can brighten up the life of many infertile couples. He has receive inquiries to participate at international forums to present his data and have attended numerous press conference and interviews and intend to do so more in the future to educate the public on the technology.

Both sides agree that all the cloning experiments performed thus far are on animals and that they resulted in a high percentage of birth defects. It is the interpretation of this is what both sides don’t agree with. The human cloning proponents interprets this as that these birth defects may occur to human cloning as well if attempted, and that since that there are no cloning technique on animals which has a high success rate in developing normal babies, no one can guarantee a human cloning technique of high success rate especially that there hasn’t been any experiments on human cloning – that the implications of attempting to clone a human at this stage of cloning technology is unimaginable and it would be completely irresponsible to do so.

But Zavos interprets it otherwise. There are many instances in countless numbers of interviews where he states that just because all these birth defects occurs in animals, it doesn’t mean that it will occur in humans. He says that with over 25 years of experience working with human embryos in IVF procedures in his expertise, he can use the advance fertilization techniques which animal cloning procedures do not utilise, hence the chances of successfully producing a normal human clone is higher than that of animals. He obviously seems to think that he, who has never performed cloning – not even on animals – claims to know better about human cloning than the scientists who have been performing cloning on animals since Dolly in 1997 does. Whether his confidence and optimism is a result of flawed assumption or not is up to anyone to decide, but majority of the scientific community, even cloning experts, condemn his human cloning attempts.

Dr. Zavos has also said that he is against the idea of creating human embryos to experiment on them, then killing it. This is partially the reason why he wishes to go for the ‘instant success’ path and produce a normal human clone. But the first attempt of ‘instant success’ cloned baby would be a human guinea pig. This is why nobody, except for Zavos, dares to clone a human. Most scientists would prefer to have the perfect low risk animal cloning technique in their hands before attempting to try it on humans which sounds perfectly reasonable, but Zavos obviously seems to think that this is unnecessary.

Zavos remains firm that he does not intend to create deformed babies or break any laws. He will perform cloning in countries where cloning is not banned, but refuses to reveal where, and that the embryos will be thoroughly tested for chromosomal and other defects before implanting them and will abandon the procedure if any form of defects is discovered.
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