News from the Field - Spring 2003

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Human Cloning Advocates Claim 1st Birth Near

In late November, Severino Antinori, the Italian reproductive specialist known for enabling a 62-year-old woman to have a baby, claimed that a human clone will be born in January 2003. Not to be outdone, Clonaid, the project of the cult group the Raelians, claimed a couple of days later that they have five clonal pregnancies in progress—with the first baby due to be born by the end of 2002. In addition, Panos Zavos, an American fertility specialist and former partner of Severino, dismissed Antinori’s claims and assert ed that he would be the first to offer proof of a successful human cloning.

The race between these various individuals and groups underscores the feverish determination to be first in the human cloning race. However, there has been no proof yet offered by anyone of a successful cloning of a human embryo, let alone a successful clonal pregnancy and birth. The lack of proof that a cloned embryo has been created may reflect how much the competing parties see absolute secrecy as a necessity to be first in their quest. However, if it is revealed that no clonal pregnancies are actually under way, it may also indicate just how far some will go for media attention.

Group Offers Members ‘Preferred’ Organ Bank

If a person is in need of an organ transplant and cannot obtain an organ from a family member or friend, he or she has traditionally been at the mercy of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). Currently about 80,000 people are on the UNOS waiting list. 17 people on the list die each day.

Now there is an alternative. Persons in need of a transplant can join the non-profit group LifeSharers and potentially move up the list.., for free. All that is required is that they promise to donate their organs to any needy person in the group first before permitting their organs to go to UNOS for transplantation. Such ‘directed donations’ are not illegal, though only 75 of them occurred in 2001.The founder of LifeSharers, David J. Undis, claims that once the group reaches 17,500, there will be a 50% chance that a donor will match a needy recipient on the list. As of the end of November, about 170 people had signed up. More information about this program is available at

Australia Debates Assisting People to Die

The heated debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia is becoming quite bitter following the death of Lisette Nigot, a healthy 79-year-old academic who decided she had enjoyed”a happy life, but enough of it”and who did”not intend to wait until it is too late to die with dignity.” Nigot had attended a workshop sponsored by Exit Australia, a group who holds train ing sessions that instruct people how to kill them selves or others painlessly. The group’s head, Dr. Philip Nitschke, helped four people die in 1995 under the short-term legalization of euthanasia in the Northern Territory. Nitschke acknowledged having met with Nigot a couple of weeks prior to her death and admit ted that while he had tried to discourage her from taking her life, he did not spend as long attempting to do so as he would have with a younger person. He also said that while instances in which healthy people kill themselves remain rare, the frequency of such occurrences is increasing.

National Institutes of Health Bioethicist Claims Society Should Screen/Abort the Blind and Disabled

Dan W. Brock, a bioethicist with the U.S. National Institutes of Health lNlH), asserted in a speech at the University of Rhode Island’s 10th Honors Colloquium that society would benefit if it were to prevent the birth of blind and severely disabled children, but insisted that the decision should be made by the children’s parents and not by the government. Brock rejected the commonly-held notion that his position would result in grave implications for those who are blind or disabled—namely, that they would be treat ed as second-class citizens. Brock asserted that his beliefs were “uncontroversial” in a reproductive con text and that his views simply reflected the likely choice of most parents not to intentionally bring a severely disabled child into the world. Brock asked, “It’s considered a misfortune to be born blind or with a serious cognitive disability, but if it’s a bad thing for a born person, then why not prevent these conditions in someone who will be born?”