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The real face of CLONING What will the world look like if renegade
scientists persist in their experiments to clone a human? Experts say that
it won't be pretty -- and that the era of human cloning might not last long.

By Tim Friend
USA TODAY

The Raelians, a religious group that believes space aliens created life on
Earth, grabbed headlines with their day-after-Christmas claim that they had
helped bring the first human clone into the world. That claim remains
unproven, and most experts consider it a hoax.

But as the dust settles from the carnival atmosphere of the past few weeks,
other claims that clones are coming remain. The day of the clone may still
be at hand.

''It is absolutely inevitable that groups are going to try to clone a human
being. But they are going to create a lot of dead and dying babies along the
way,'' says bioethicist Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center, a
bioethics think tank in Garrison, N.Y.

Lost in the hype surrounding claims of human cloning are hard scientific
facts that show cloning animals is fraught with perils both before and after
birth. Scientists are able to clone sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and mice, but
not without significant errors that commonly result in oversized fetuses,
placental defects, lung, kidney and cardiovascular problems, brain
abnormalities, immune dysfunction and severe postnatal weight gain.

Efforts to clone primates have proven even more difficult and might be
impossible with current methods, scientists say. Of particular concern are
embryos that appear normal and healthy but at the genetic level are a
''gallery of horrors,'' says Tanja Dominko, who conducted primate cloning
research at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center in Beaverton.

Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, Mass., is the only scientific group
that has acknowledged making cloned human embryos for research purposes. ACT
medical director Robert Lanza says he hopes one day to create cures for
diseases such as Alzheimer's based on cells harvested from cloned embryos.
But his team has found that cloning human embryos is no simple task. Only
one has reached the six-cell stage, and it had significant genetic
abnormalities.

Lanza says techniques are improving for purposes of medical research but not
enough for reliably creating healthy babies.

'Devastating birth defects'

If cloned babies start showing up in hospital nurseries, scientists predict
that they will be hooked up to respirators because their hearts and lungs
will have been deformed. Feeding tubes also might be necessary for infants
who have brain damage and cannot suckle. Others might have extensive
physical abnormalities. Even those born with a normal appearance probably
would experience epilepsy, autism or behavioral abnormalities.

''All of the data on animal cloning demonstrates exceptionally high rates of
fetal loss, abortion (and) neonatal deaths, and many cloned animals have
devastating birth defects,'' says Gerald Schatten, vice chairman of
obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the University of
Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

''When people are working with farm animals or laboratory mice and there is
a newborn that is suffering, veterinarians can euthanize the animal. Are
people who are attempting to clone humans going to euthanize suffering
children?''

Two fertility specialists, Severino Antinori of Rome and Panos Zavos of
Lexington, Ky., have announced independent efforts to clone humans. Antinori
announced in March that a clone would be born around January. Zavos was to
have begun his cloning efforts last fall. Antinori, Zavos and Brigitte
Boisselier of Clonaid, the Raelian company that claims to have brought two
cloned babies into the world, have made dozens of television appearances,
and to the chagrin of some critics, have acquired an air of legitimacy by
being invited to testify before Congress and the National Academy of
Sciences.

Yet none of these people has provided evidence of the ability to actually
clone a human safely, Murray says. When asked how they plan to avoid the
types of deformities found in cloned animals, all three repeatedly have
stated that the scientists who clone animals don't know what they are doing.

''If you are doing it the way of the animal cloners, yes, there is a risk,''
Zavos told USA TODAY in August when he introduced an anonymous couple who
said they plan to have a cloned baby. ''We have the science of maternal
fetal medicine, and we will be monitoring the pregnancies very carefully.''

Many of the birth defects observed in cloned animals are similar to the
gross physical deformities and mental retardation found in rare genetic
disorders caused by a phenomenon known as genetic imprinting, says Arthur
Beaudet, professor of genetics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

These disorders arise when the genes of the mother and father do not align
for embryonic development as nature intended.

Here's how imprinting occurs: At the moment of natural conception, the
30,000 genes in the DNA of the father must combine in the fertilized egg
with the 30,000 genes of the mother. Then there are two copies of every
gene, and together they form a master program to build an embryo cell by
cell, sometimes with genes from the father turned off to let the mother's
genes do the work, and other times the mother's genes stay silent to let the
father's do their part.

Imprinting disorders arise when either the mother's or father's genes
imprint themselves on the program in places where they should have been
minding their own business -- like mom and dad talking at the same time
rather than taking turns. In other words, both copies of a gene are turned
on when one of them should be silent, and the result is a genetic error that
might cause a developmental disorder.

Perils of reprogramming

In cloning, a scientist plucks the DNA containing the copies of all of the
mother and father's genes from a fully formed adult cell and inserts it into
an egg that has been stripped of its own nucleus of genes. Because there is
no conception to spark the creation of an embryo, scientists must somehow
reprogram that adult DNA back to the brink of embryonic development as
though fertilization had just occurred.

Reprogramming is perhaps the most active area of cloning research, but
scientists do not know how to do it. So they must insert the DNA from adult
cells into dozens or even hundreds of eggs, give a little jolt of
electricity to stimulate the cell to divide and keep their fingers crossed.
Most scientists agree that only about 1% to 2% of these attempts in animals
lead to a live birth. Of live births, only about 20% appear to be normal.

The prevalence of genetic disorders in cloned animals and the lack of
knowledge about reprogramming are the primary reasons the scientists who
work on cloning and issues of reprogramming say they are skeptical that
anyone can clone a human without genetic errors, Beaudet and others say.

''Just from the scientific safety considerations alone, this is completely
appalling,'' says Schatten, who is leading efforts to clone rhesus monkeys.
These efforts have been unsuccessful. ''Those of us actively engaged in
research cloning have invested years and years of dedicated efforts and have
encountered enormous difficulties in generating a single'' cloned embryo.

Congress introduced another bill Jan. 8 to make human cloning in the USA
illegal. But it has been unable to pass a number of anti-cloning bills
because the legislation has included a ban on research using cloning
techniques to create stem cells.

Researchers want to create tiny pre-embryos -- a ball of cells that has not
yet taken any form -- as sources of stem cells; this type of research is
called therapeutic cloning. Supporters believe these primordial stem cells
hold promise for treating a wide range of disorders including Alzheimer's,
cancer and diabetes. They say they fear that the bath water will be thrown
out with the baby and that Congress will ban embryonic stem cell research.

Opponents say it is immoral to use human embryos for research. Obtaining
stem cells means destroying the embryo, which many people consider the same
as abortion.

But some experts believe the real stake in the heart of human cloning will
come the first time angry parents sue a laboratory or a doctor over a
genetically damaged cloned child. A strong case for malpractice could be
made. And the same arguments that scientists are making today against human
cloning will become fodder for expert witnesses.

''People will forgive a health care provider for making a mistake as long as
enough basic information was provided in advance, and the alternative to a
treatment was death or a miserable life,'' says Scott McMillen of McMillen,
Reinhart and Voght, malpractice attorneys in Orlando. ''But in cloning we're
not trying to save a life. We're trying to create a life from scratch, and
to do that with negligence would be actionable. And ultimately it is a jury
that will decide whether there was negligence.''

Defense attorneys may be hard-pressed to find a sympathetic jury. A USA
TODAY/CNN/Gallup PollJan. 3-5 shows 86% of Americans say human cloning
should be illegal.

Boisselier says the parents of the supposedly cloned children created by
Clonaid all have ''agreed to share the risk.'' But Murray says parents can
change their minds and sue, and the people who are so eager to clone humans
should recall the Jesse Gelsinger case.

Headed to the witness stand

Gelsinger died Sept. 17, 1999, at age 18, four days after entering a gene-
therapy experiment at the University of Pennsylvania to treat his inherited
liver disorder. At first, Gelsinger's parents were sympathetic to the
scientists. But as information emerged about risks and side effects that
Gelsinger and his parents were never told about, they sued the hospital and
everyone involved in the experiment.

Gelsinger's parents stated in the lawsuit that risks were downplayed and
that the doctors were negligent in performing the experiment. The university
settled the suit for an undisclosed amount.

McMillen says human cloning raises key questions of informed consent.
Boisselier and Zavos have testified before Congress that human cloning in
their hands is not as risky as animal cloning and that they are unlikely to
create damaged babies. In a trial, those comments could come back to haunt
them as they face cloning experts as expert witnesses for plaintiffs.

''I expect that the animal cloners who have said that it is too soon to
clone humans would rally to the witness stand,'' McMillen says.

What is unknown is whether parents can recover anything from a group that
has few assets, whether cloners that perform procedures outside the USA are
liable or whether the cloners will have malpractice insurance.

What is certain is that parents of cloned children who have genetic defects
will face high medical costs. Imprinting disorders that cause mental
retardation and physical abnormalities carry medical costs of $1 million to
$20 million over the lifetime of the child, says Beaudet, who treats
children with imprinting disorders.

''There are many longer-term issues to be considered, such as: If we in fact
develop this human cloning technology, who will have access to it, and who
will pay for the procedures, and who will pay for the medical care if these
children are born with medical defects?'' asks Mark Rothstein, director of
the Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy and Law at the University of
Louisville.

Experts in the health insurance industry say the questions have not been
addressed on whether infants born with genetic disorders caused by cloning
would or should be covered. But legal experts say insurers might be
justified in denying coverage if an infant is born as the result of a
procedure that mainstream science says is likely to cause birth defects.

At the moment, however, insurers believe they might be obligated to pay for
costs. ''Obviously this is a new area,'' says Susan Pisano of the American
Association of Health Plans, which represents the managed-care community.
''Traditionally whether or not there has been some technology or procedure
that has led to a pregnancy, the baby has been covered as a dependent. It is
important to look at the safety aspects of this.

''But I also think discussions about these new developments need to be
broad. This is an issue for all of society.''

Several insurance companies declined to comment on the record. But all
suggested that unless changes are made to specifically exclude cloned
babies, the babies would be covered under group health plans. Individual
plans could exclude a high-risk clone.

Murray says he is concerned for the people who would want to have themselves
cloned. Boisselier, Zavos and Antinori have said the couples seeking their
business are motivated by the desire to have a child who has their genes or
to re-create a child who died.

'Narcissism run wild'

Murray, whose daughter was murdered in 2000, says it reflects ''despair,
grief and narcissism run wild. These aren't wicked motives, but trying to
spare yourself the grief reflects a deep misunderstanding. Grief doesn't
work that way, and cloning will not bring back a child.''

These parents must realize that a clone has a good chance of being brain-
damaged. A narcissist might end up with a mentally retarded version of
himself or herself.

Just a few years ago, human cloning appeared to be something that would be
left to science fiction while mainstream scientists pursued cloning
techniques to create medical therapies. Scientists seem baffled that two
fertility specialists and the Raelians have commandeered the debate with
unsubstantiated claims.

Murray says it is tragic.

''People will keep claiming to have created cloned babies, and eventually
someone will succeed, but at what cost? A lot of damaged children and
disappointed parents.

''That is the very sad baggage that cloning will carry into the world.''

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today.
It's already tomorrow in Australia!"----- Charles Schultz