Race to Clone First Human Stirs Fears of 'Brave New World'.(Opinion &Amp; Editorial)

Article excerpt

Byline: FRANK ZELLER

WASHINGTON - Before the end of the year, says a Canada-based UFO sect, an American woman aged in her thirties will deliver the world's first human clone.

Experts have been skeptical about the claim made by the Raelian Movement, whose followers also say they communicate with space aliens by using their hair as antennae.

But few will entirely dismiss the chance that the science-savvy group or another research team will soon produce a baby that is not the child of its parents but the twin of its "genetic donor."

Half a decade after science gave the world Dolly the sheep - an effort since followed up with cloned pigs, goats and "copy-cats" - many regard human cloning not as a matter of if, but of when.

Also in the human clone race is Italian fertility expert Severino Antinori, who claimed last month that an unidentified woman was carrying an "absolutely healthy" fetus that is due in January.

His former scientific partner, one-time Kentucky University physiology professor Panos Zavos, also claims to be running a rival effort and says he will create a clone in early 2003.

The secretive programs have been announced in the absence of an international ban on human reproductive cloning, an idea being considered by the United Nations.

To clone a human, scientists would have to take the DNA from a living person's cell and place it in a cell stripped off its genetic material, then implant the "clonal embryo" into a woman's womb.

Most people instinctively oppose the idea imagined by Aldous Huxley in the 1932 novel "Brave New World" and, more recently, in Hollywood movies such as "Gattaca" and "The Sixth Day".

Human cloning raises deep moral and ethical questions about the sanctity of life and the notion of scientists "playing God."

Futuristic nightmare scenarios abound about made-toorder designer babies or genetically enhanced super-warriors.

Critics warn of a world in which parents pay to have more intelligent, athletic and attractive children, creating "genetic castes." They see a revival of eugenics, the attempt to biologically "improve" the human species that led to Nazi gas chambers.

At least in the short run, researchers warn, efforts to clone humans would create large numbers of babies that are stillborn or have horrific birth defects. In mammal cloning, more than 95 per cent of embryos are born dead or mutated, say experts.

For these and other reasons, more than 30 nations have banned reproductive cloning - among them many European countries as well as Australia, Brazil, India, Israel, Japan, Russia and South Africa. …