- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

LONDON The British professor whose work was integral in the birth of the world's first test-tube baby has said he is in favor of the creation of human clones if the process could be shown to be safe.
Robert Edwards, whose work with the late Patrick Steptoe led to the birth of Louise Brown in July 1978, said that if the "horrific" abnormalities seen in cloned animals can be avoided, the needs of childless couples would take precedence over other considerations.
Dr. Edwards, who was honored by the British queen in 1988 for his contribution to medicine, is retired from infertility practice, but his comments will influence the debate on ethics of human cloning sparked by Severino Antinori, the Italian specialist who claims to have three patients pregnant with cloned embryos.
Dr. Edwards sees a parallel between his experiences in the 1970s when he and Dr. Steptoe were criticized for trying to perfect in vitro fertilization (IVF). In the 24 years since their first success, a million IVF babies have been born worldwide, and the technique has become an accepted therapy.
Dr. Edwards, a former professor of human reproduction at Cambridge University, said that he knew Dr. Antinori and admired the work he had done in the past, in particular on methods of injecting sperm from infertile men directly into egg cells.
"He also did a very nice piece of work on getting pregnancies in ladies up to the age of 62," he said. "Some people might think that is bad, but the ladies themselves don't think it's bad, and I think the ladies who want their desperate last chance of pregnancy in their 50s are to be supported."
He said Dr. Antinori told him at a recent meeting in Cyprus of the cloned pregnancies now under way. "I have told him my own opinion is that I wouldn't object to him saying he was going to clone a child if he added, 'provided all the embryos after cloning are as normal as those after normal conception,'" Dr. Edwards said. "He can't say that at the moment. No one can."
Dr. Edwards said there was a "glimmer of hope" in recent work on rabbits, which suggested that it might be possible to overcome the defects seen in animals. If so, it might also be possible to help an infertile couple have a child through cloning. In this case, the "clinical imperative" to help them would, for him personally, be first.
Next weekend Dr. Edwards will deliver a speech to infertility specialists and patients in London in which he will express sympathy for those suffering from the "disease" of infertility and call for more to be done to help them.
Josephine Quintavalle, director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, a pressure group that opposes human cloning, said: "You could never perfect cloning on humans without experimenting on humans, and that is something that the world has agreed should never happen again after Nazi Germany."


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