- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2001

The Italian doctor who plans to be the first to clone human beings doesn't look like a mad scientist.
Dr. Severino Antinori, a bespectacled man with gray hair and a bushy mustache, looks nothing like the Hollywood vision of Dr. Frankenstein insanely toiling in his lab to create life.
But this mild-looking 56-year-old father of two, called "Dr. Miracle" by his adoring patients, has been compared to Hitler and accused of playing God by his critics.
Dr. Antinori, an acknowledged pioneer in the field of in vitro fertilization (IVF), gained international notoriety in 1993 when his treatment enabled a 62-year-old Italian farmer's wife to enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest woman ever to give birth.
The Vatican called that record-breaker a "horrible and grotesque act," and a Catholic newspaper accused Dr. Antinori of "creating pre-fabricated orphans" by enabling births to elderly women.
One of his fiercest critics is the archbishop of Ravenna, Monsignor Erzivio Tonini, who has compared him to Hitler, a theme the Vatican sounded again yesterday. Archbishop Tonini said in a 1993 interview that Dr. Antinori is leading mankind down "the road to self-destruction."
For his part, the doctor compares himself to Galileo — the 17th-century astronomer persecuted by the Catholic Church — and portrays himself as a benefactor to desperate women.
"I am not a monster," Dr. Antinori told The Times of London in February. "Sometimes nature needs a little help. I help."
That "help," usually involving egg donations from young women, has allowed dozens of women to give birth at ages usually associated with grandmothers. In the process, Dr. Antinori has created a new class of mothers, known in Italy as "le mamme-nonne" — granny-moms.
"Every woman has the right to have a child," he declared in 1993. "These women come to me when they have nowhere else to go, and I help where I can."
Although Dr. Antinori's private clinic is only a few hundred yards from the Vatican — which condemns all forms of artificial birth control, many forms of fertility treatment and genetic engineering his trailblazing practice has been abetted by Italy's rules on fertility therapy, which are relatively lax. For instance, British medical authorities allow doctors to implant no more than three embryos at once in a woman's womb, while Italy has no limit.
A native of Abruzzo, east of Rome, Dr. Antinori trained in Italy as a veterinarian, researching animal reproduction, before studying human medicine in Sweden, Germany, England and the United States. He first treated infertility at hospitals in Venice and Rome before establishing his own clinic.
His first brush with fame came in 1988, when he helped a 53-year-old woman give birth by implanting one of her eggs, fertilized with the sperm of her boyfriend, in the womb of her daughter. An Italian magazine called the resulting child "the son of his sister and the brother of his mother, so the uncle and the nephew of himself."
In December 1992, Dr. Antinori made headlines again when another of his patients, a wealthy 59-year-old British woman, gave birth to twins. A former chairman of the British Medical Association's ethics committee said the case "bordered on the Frankenstein syndrome."
Less than eight months later, Dr. Antinori once more pushed back the frontiers of fertility, when his patient, Rosanna Della Corte, 62, became the oldest woman to give birth. Mrs. Della Corte named the 7 pound, 4 ounce boy after her dead son, who had been killed in a motorcycle accident three years earlier at age 17.
"Today is a great day in Italy for women, for individual liberty," Dr. Antinori said in announcing that record-breaking birth. "To want to have a child is a personal choice, and to be able to have it at any age is now possible."
His patients have praised him as "a saint," but Dr. Antinori has been criticized as a publicity seeker. In 1992, he told reporters that cable TV mogul Ted Turner had sought his services for Mr. Turner's wife at the time, actress Jane Fonda, then 55. The Turners denied Dr. Antinori's claim.
His involvement in the cloning project — sponsored by the Raelians, a UFO group which promotes cloning as a means to "eternal life" — has added to Dr. Antinori's notoriety.
Benito Meledandri, president of the Italian Medical Association,called Dr. Antinori's cloning plans "completely against the professional code of conduct."
But the doctor continues to portray his work as a humanitarian endeavor.
"We don't want to create photocopy children but to give hope to those who lack the gift of fertility," Dr. Antinori told a British paper in March.
Researcher John Sopko contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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