Maverick fertility doctor Severino Antinori managed to hijack the headlines yet again last week, following reports that one of his patients is pregnant with a cloned embryo. At the time of writing, neither he nor his American colleague Panayiotis Zavos has confirmed or denied the story.
True or not, their highly publicised plan to produce the world's first human clone is unscientific, unethical and irresponsible. Their determination to continue with a project condemned by the rest of the scientific and medical community beggars belief. It is vital that the public and policymakers alike realise that Antinori and Zavos have virtually no support from any scientists involved in cloning research.
All the evidence from animal cloning experiments clearly shows that the technique has a low success rate, and even when it works, has unpredictable long-term effects on the health of the cloned animals. For Antinori to claim he is acting out of a desire to help infertile couples is ludicrous. If reports of the human clone pregnancy are true, then it is almost certain that many other couples taking part in the project have endured miscarriages. Even if the pregnancy continues to term, which is highly unlikely, the chances of serious health problems in the clone are high. Antinori is helping no-one, and is endangering the health and welfare of everyone recruited into his study. He is also guilty of raising false hopes in thousands more couples world-wide.
Of course, the reports may turn out to be nothing more than Chinese whispers. But Antinori's unsubstantiated claims must not be permitted to cloud the debate over the wider use of cloning technology. Politicians in the US (and elsewhere) will shortly be asked to decide whether or not to permit research on the use of cloned early embryo cells to develop new disease therapies. It is imperative that the actions of one irresponsible person do not in any way influence decisions that could affect the lives of millions.