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Scepticism, concern over Clonaid's claims

By Hasan Suroor

LONDON DEC 28. British scientists today joined calls for a worldwide ban on human cloning following claims by an American cult, which believes in extra-terrestrial births, that it had produced the world's first cloned baby.

The claim, which has been universally greeted with scepticism, prompted warnings that such a baby faced a serious risk of ill-health, premature ageing and death.

Cloned animals such as Dolly the sheep, the world's first clone, have been dogged by a range of abnormalities including severe arthritis and early ageing. "This baby has been born into a living nightmare with a high risk of malformation, ill health, early death and unimaginably severe emotional pressures,'' Patrick Dixon, an expert on ethics of cloning said.

The sharp and angry reaction came as pressure grew on Clonaid, the company which made the claim in Florida on Friday, to provide scientific evidence and experts dismissed the boast as a "gimmick''.

``These people are barking mad. One will only believe they have cloned a baby if they provide the proof,'' Robert Winston, a leading British fertility specialist said. The claim was also questioned by the maverick Italian fertility doctor, Severino Antinori, who himself is engaged in creating a human clone.

The report, he said, made him "laugh'' as Clonaid and the cult which supported it had no scientific credibility.

In Britain, human cloning is illegal, but cloning of embryo for therapeutic purposes is allowed under licence. Doctors today called for a ban on therapeutic cloning as well saying it was only a step away from human cloning.

Dr Ian Gibson, chairman of the Commons Select Committee on science and technology, said the prospects of human cloning were "worrying'' as some blamed the United Kingdom for setting a precedent by creating Dolly, the sheep.

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