A scientist’s claim that he will start cloning humans within two years set off a nationwide clamor Wednesday from doctors who say it can’t be done, ethicists who say it shouldn’t be done and politicians who say they won’t let it be done.
At the center of the uproar is Richard Seed, a physicist and self-described eccentric with a doctorate from Harvard who is unaffiliated with any institution and appears to be virtually unknown in the field of genetic science.
He says he has the expertise as well as couples willing to take part, if he can set up an independent laboratory and raise the $2 million he estimates is needed.
Seed scoffed at the widespread opposition to the concept of human cloning - a possibility that suddenly seemed closer to reality last year after Scottish scientists announced they had cloned the adult sheep Dolly, the first cloned mammal.
“New things of any kind, mechanical, biological, intellectual, always tend to create fear,” Seed said. “Then the subject becomes tolerated and ignored. And the third stage, which always happens, is the subject becomes enthusiastically endorsed, and I think the same thing will happen in human cloning.”
Researchers said cloning humans might one day be possible but would be inefficient, pointing out that the Scottish team went through 277 sheep before cloning Dolly.
“The idea of setting up a human cloning clinic is kind of a crackpot notion, even forgetting the ethical issues, because the effectiveness rate would be so low,” said Dr. Sherman Silber, director of the Infertility Center of St. Louis.
Dr. Lawrence Layman, chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Chicago Hospitals, said, “It’s not like he can just throw together a lab and just do it.”
Seed, who describes himself as “eccentric or brilliant or near-genius,” said he hopes to begin his work within the next few months and set a goal of producing a pregnancy in a woman within 1-1/2 years.
He suggested that the techniques would be similar to those used to create the cloned sheep. DNA would be removed from a woman’s egg and replaced with the DNA from the person to be cloned. The fertilized egg would grow into an embryo that would be placed into the woman, who would give birth to the cloned child.
President Clinton has barred the use of federal funds on human cloning, and a bill that would make his order permanent is among several anti-cloning measures in Congress.
A national panel recommended last year after Dolly’s cloning that Congress make human cloning illegal, saying the technique posed unacceptable risks of mutations and raised troubling ethical questions.
“The scientific community ought to make it clear to Dr. Seed - and I think the president will make it clear to Dr. Seed - that he has elected to become irresponsible, unethical and unprofessional should he pursue the course that he outlined today,” said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey said Congress should pass a human cloning ban quickly, and Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Mo., who introduced such legislation last year, said he will push for emergency action when Congress reconvenes at the end of the month.
“We are face to face with Brave New World,” said Bond. “While we may be prepared from a technological standpoint to proceed with this research, we are not prepared from an ethical standpoint. There are some avenues that should be off limits to science. If scientists will not draw the line for themselves, it is up to the elected representatives of the people to draw it for them.”
Seed said he has debated his views with his Methodist pastor.
“God made man in his own image. Therefore, he intended that man should become one with God. Man should have an indefinite life and have indefinite knowledge. And we’re going to do it, and this is one step,” Seed said.
1. How humans might be cloned 2. To clone or not to clone?