A woman is eight weeks pregnant with a clone, according to Severino Antinori, one of the fertility specialists who is supervising the pregnancy. ?One woman among thousands of infertile couples in the program is eight weeks pregnant,? Antinori says. This is the world?s first human cloning pregnancy.

Antinori’s colleague, Panos Zavos at the Andrology Institute of America in Lexington, Kentucky, previously announced that they planned to clone a baby by the end of 2001. They have refused to reveal the name or nationality of the woman, but say that almost 5000 couples are now involved in the program.

Many countries have banned reproductive cloning and scientists warn of the high risk of severe birth defects, as well as very high rates of miscarriage. Richard Gardner, an expert on early mammalian embryo development, says such a pregnancy would be ?grossly irresponsible given the current state of knowledge, even aside from any ethical issues.?

Antinori says he screens the embryos to reduce the risk of abnormalities but Gardner says, ?There?s no way you can do it?you could only spot gross changes in chromosomes or in the number of chromosomes. The chance of a live birth of a normal child is very hard to assess.?

Studies on other mammals, such as sheep, cows, mice and goats, have had limited but variable success and there is a very high rate of embryo loss and early death. With access to an intensive care unit, perhaps one of the first 100 human cloning pregnancies could result in a baby that survives beyond the first few weeks of birth, according to leading cloning scientists.

Donald Bruce, of the Church of Scotland?s Science, Religion and Technology project, says, ?Antinori is conducting experiments on people, playing on their vulnerability. His cavalier attitude to the significance of the animal cloning experiments and the risks involved puts him beyond the pale of responsible scientists.? Bruce says people have a right to have their own, unique genome and should not have another person?s DNA forced upon them.

Richard Nicholson, editor of the English Bulletin of Medical Ethics, says the report of the pregnancy strengthens the need for international legislation to ban reproductive cloning. ?We need an international law to prevent mavericks like Antinori doing something that the vast majority of the public and responsible scientists say they do not want to have done,? he says. ?So long as there are Antinoris around, it probably is inevitable that there will be a live clone birth. But that clone will probably have a very brief and sad life.?

Does a clone have a soul? Read ?Destiny of Souls? by Michael Newton, click here.

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