Intended for healthcare professionals


Claim of human reproductive cloning provokes calls for international ban

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 22 January 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:185
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

    An international ban on reproductive cloning is urgently needed, say embryologists and organisations working in the field, after a claim last week that a fertilised egg produced by reproductive cloning had been implanted into a woman's uterus.

    Panos Zavos, professor emeritus of reproductive physiology-andrology at the University of Kentucky, in the United States, claimed at a press conference held in London last week that he had implanted a cloned embryo into a woman's womb. He said that the embryo had been produced from the immature egg of an infertile 35 year old woman and a skin cell from her husband.

    The procedure had taken place “very recently,” he reported, and it was too early to see if implantation had been successful. He refused to give details of the national or racial origins of the couple involved and offered no proof that the procedure had taken place. But he said that it had been filmed and that he would allow DNA testing to check his claims at a later date.

    The announcement drew widespread condemnation from authorities and embryologists working in the field. It was suggested that an international ban—ideally led by the United Nations—on reproductive cloning should be introduced urgently. The United Nations was considering such a ban but decided in November 2003 to delay consideration of the issue for two years, until September 2005.

    Suzi Leather, chairwoman of the HFEA (the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the government appointed organisation that regulates UK treatment and research involving human embryos outside the body), said: “Zavos's media stunt is more than just a stunt. It has demonstrated that there will always be someone who is willing to exploit patients and go ahead and risk distress and suffering in a child to further their own ends.

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    Panos Zavos produced no evidence for his claim to have implanted a cloned embryo but said the procedure had been filmed


    “It is a wake-up call. The UN ban on reproductive cloning is stalled. Many will wonder how much longer it can be delayed.”

    Speaking at the HFEA's annual conference, this week, she added: “Any ban must be more than a declaration of condemnation. It must be backed up by national regimes capable of enforcing such a ban. With the exception of the UK, there are currently few countries anywhere in the world with the necessary regulatory regime to do that.”

    Arne Sunde, professor and clinical embryologist at the University of Trondheim, Norway, and chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, agreed: “There is currently variation in different countries on regulations concerning reproductive cloning. All countries in Europe have a ban on reproductive cloning, but the United States—along with many countries in the Middle East and Far East—does not. The United Nations should agree an international ban.”

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