MANY OF Britain's most eminent medical scientists believe the birth of a cloned baby is inevitable despite society's current aversion to the idea.
More than half of a panel of 32 scientists surveyed by The Independent said "reproductive cloning" would be attempted within 20 years if the technical and safety issues could be overcome. Their views stand in stark contrast to the public's vehement opposition to human cloning, which many people associate with fictional visions of armies of identical dictators.
A majority of the scientists interviewed, who included Lord Winston and Professor Richard Dawkins, also believe that if the use of limited "therapeutic cloning" for embryonic stem cells is successful, it will lead to a re- evaluation of the present law banning reproductive cloning of an adult.
A significant minority of those who took part in the survey - more than one in five - felt that reproductive cloning could also be justified on medical grounds, if for instance it was the only way for a couple to have a child of their own.
Later this year, MPs will be given a free vote on whether to allow limited therapeutic cloning. Opposition groups are expected to argue that to allow limited cloning of human embryos is "playing God" and will create a "slippery slope" leading to the cloning of an adult.
The results of the survey confirm what many medical scientists have said privately about the inevitability of someone, somewhere attempting the cloning of a human being even though it is banned in Britain and outlawed in many other countries.
One medical director of a London fertility unit, who did not wish to be named, went as far as to say: "The equipment needed for cloning is simple and cheap, and, whether it is approved of or not, it will happen. It is unstoppable."
In our survey of doctors and scientists, many of whom have acted as government advisers, it was the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) specialists who took the most sympathetic line towards human reproductive cloning.
Peter Brinsden, medical director of the Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, said: "Reproductive cloning for ethically approved, very limited indications would now be acceptable to a large portion of society if explained properly.
"Society's views on these difficult issues will change over the next 10 to 20 years, in the same way they have over the past 20 years with many contentious subjects in the field of assisted reproduction."
Lord Winston, the foremost IVF expert in Britain, also believes that reproductive cloning will be attempted, although he said it could not be medically justified. "It is difficult to predict how society will think about these issues in 20 years' time," he said. …