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Human cloning - the risks

The aim of research into human cloning has never been to clone people, or to make babies for spare parts.

The research aims to obtain stem cells to cure disease.

However, results of research into animal and human cloning for stem cells have been published and, like all scientific findings, these are available world-wide.

It was inevitable that one day this knowledge would be abused. Now a handful of people across the world have announced that they have already cloned a baby. However, the world is still waiting for proof that a cloned baby exists.

These individuals don't work for any University, hospital or other government-regulated institution. On the whole, the scientific community throughout the world has consistently opposed any suggestions of cloning a baby.

'The majority of published research shows that death or mutilation of the clone are the most likely outcomes of mammalian cloning' said John Kilner, president of the Centre for Bioethics and Human Dignity in the United States.

No one is sure how far human cloning has actually gone. By April 2003 Clonaid, a company created by the Raelian sect, said they had already created five human baby clones. The first, Eve, was allegedly born in America.

A United States court has ordered Clonaid to reveal the whereabouts of the American mother and cloned baby, but neither have come forward. Of the five allegedly cloned babies, none have been DNA tested to see if they really are clones of existing people.

Others around the world - for example the Italian scientist Dr. Severino Antinori - are actively trying to clone a human child. Most scientists strongly disapprove of this work. He has claimed there are mothers pregnant with cloned babies, but again, no evidence has been forthcoming.

Doctors consider the risks of human cloning to be very great.

"To subject human beings to cloning is not taking an unknown risk, it's knowingly harming people," Kilner said.

Most scientists agree with this. The vast majority of attempts at cloning an animal have led to deformed embryos or miscarriages once implanted. Most scientists argue that the few cloned animals which are born suffer from deformities which are undetectable by scans and tests in the womb, for example defects to the lining of the lungs.

In 1996, Dolly the sheep was born. She was the first animal cloned from the DNA derived from an adult sheep rather than using DNA from an embryo.

Although Dolly seems healthy enough, there were questions over whether she would age more quickly than a normal sheep. She died in February 2003 having been diagnosed with a progressive lung disease.

Dolly was the only sheep out of 277 attempts that made it to a live birth. Who would accept those odds when experimenting with human babies?

However, there are people who agree with cloning to have a child. Some may be parents who have lost a baby and want to replace it, others may be people who want children of their own but can't have them in the traditional way. For example, where a man cannot produce sperm he could get his own DNA inserted into his partner's egg - creating a clone of himself.

If cloning was your only possible chance to have a child, would you use it? And who would you want to know? Could you spot a cloned child?

'Oooh - doesn't he look like his dad'!

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