Moratorium on Human Cloning for Five Years
March 5, 2001; Los Angeles, CA; Although the GRG is generally pronatalist with regard to the use of advanced technology for assisted reproduction for infertile couples -- such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), for example -- we wish to go on record as vehemently opposing the use of human reproductive cloning for any purpose at this time on the grounds that the technology is radically premature and inevitable early failures could well set the entire field back many years.
Even after four years of serious animal experimentation following the historic cloning of Dolly the sheep by Dr. Ian Wilmut in Edinburgh, Scotland, with subsequent successes in pigs, cows, goats, mice, monkeys, and other species (but conspicuously not with cats, dogs, horses, or gauers, despite intensive efforts), at the present time the overall failure rate is still astronomical ( greater than 98 percent failure, even in the hands of teams of expert veterinarians and infertility specialists). Embryos never implant (no pregnancy), lead to spontaneous abortions (still births after implantation), or sudden death soon-after-birth (because of unexplained congenital anomalies). In short, if the truth be told -- "our technique stinks, and we're shooting in the dark."
Therefore, we must concur with Drs. Ian Wilmut, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Cloning, and Michael West, CEO of Advanced Cell Technology of Worcester, MA, that it is " criminally irresponsible" for gynecologists or others motivated by publicity to experiment with human embryos for the purpose of satisfying the real needs of prospective parents, gay couples, or other selfish, but wealthy individuals. Thus, we must disassociate ourselves from those who have gone on record as seeking to secretly accomplish this feat in the immediate future, such as: (1) Dr. Richard Seed, Ph.D. of Chicago; (2) the Clonaid Project of the Raelian Sect; and (3) Drs. Panayiotis Zavos, M.D. of the University of Kentucky and Severino Antinori, M.D. of Rome, Italy, both of whom are otherwise respected infertility specialists. We believe that our profound level of biological ignorance will not be magically erased in the course of the next few years of intense animal experimentation and the inevitable failures of human reproductive cloning, which, when publicly leaked for the first time, can only risk adverse long-term consequences for the progress of true medical research. Instead, it is proposed that we should revisit this issue in another five years or so, given the high stakes, until our technique improves radically and a heavy-handed legislative reaction is less likely.
On the other hand, we should hasten to point out that human therapeutic cloning for the purpose of harvesting embryonic stem cells is an acceptable approach to attempting to cure diseases in human adults, and the immediate prospects for this particular technology appear to be quite promising. Douglas Melton, a developmental biologist at Harvard University, was one of the first to publish a scientific study of the potential of embryonic stem cells. In work published last October, he showed that such cells could be turned into a wide variety of cell types (muscle, nerve, and so on). Other scientists who have begun working with these cells describe growing beating heart cells in culture; still others are working to generate bone marrow for treating victims of leukemia and other cancers [1, 2]. Please let's not "throw out the baby with the bath water," as Jeremy Rifkin  might have us do when he states in a recent Op-Ed Piece, "Customized human cloning even offers the specter of a new kind of immortality."  [ Editor's Note: Italics added.]
Reference  reviews the recent chaotic meeting held in Rome, hosted by Drs. Severino Antinori, Panos Zavos, and Avi Ben-Abraham. Despite the controversy engendered by the meeting, Antinori revealed that they would hold a second meeting in Monte Carlo, Monaco in October to fine-tune their plan to accomplish their goal within two years.
1. Antonio Regalado, "Private Studies of Embryo Cells Raise Concerns," p.. A1, B1, B4, The Wall Street Journal (March 21, 2001).
2. Sophie Petit-Zeman, "Regenrative Medicine: The Regeneration of Tissues and Organs Offers a Radical New Approach to the Treatment of Injury and Disease. It's a New Medicine for a New Millennium, but Does the Reality Match the Hype?," Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 201-206 (March 2001).
3. Jeremy Rifkin, The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World (J. P. Tarcher;1999; Paperback - 271 pages).
4. Jeremy Rifkin, "Commentary: We Clone Perfect Babies at the Risk of Losing Our Compassion," p. B9, The Los Angeles Times (March 20, 2001).
5. John Pickrell, "Human Cloning: Experts Assail Plan to Help Childless Couples," Science, Vol. 291, No. 5511, pp. 2061,3 (March 16, 2001).