First cloned baby 'due in January'
By Emma Young
The world's first cloned baby is due to be born early in January 2003, claimed controversial Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori on Tuesday night.
He said the pregnancy is "going well, there are no problems" at a press conference in Rome. Ultrasound scans reveal that the fetus weighs 2.5 to 2.7 kilogrammes and is "absolutely healthy", he added.
Two other women carrying cloned fetuses are 27 and 28 weeks pregnant, Antinori said. But he refused to reveal the location of any of the women. He said he was not responsible for the work, but had acted as an advisor.
Many scientists are sceptical of Antinori's announcements, accusing him of enjoying the publicity his claims bring. He has provided no evidence to back up his latest statement, or previous declarations that he has cloned pigs and primates. But he has carried out controversial fertility procedures in the past, creating a pregnancy in a 62-year-old woman in 1994.
"Irresponsible and repugnant"
In May, Antinori announced that three women were pregnant with clones, and suggested that one lived in an Islamic country. He did not indicate on Tuesday whether the woman due to give birth in January was one of these three women.
Most mainstream cloning scientists agree that human reproductive cloning would be possible. But they stress that such an experiment would be grossly irresponsible, due to the high risk of premature death and severe birth defects in clones.
Attempting to clone humans is "irresponsible and repugnant and ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence from seven mammalian species cloned so far," Rudolf Jaenisch, a cloning expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told New Scientist earlier in 2002.
Many countries worldwide have passed legislation to ban the creation of cloned babies. But on 5 November, international debate on a global ban was put on hold for at least a year, following a series of deadlocked United Nations meetings.