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Chicago Physicist Announces He's Ready to Clone a Human

By Rick Weiss
The Washington Post

A Chicago scientist says he has assembled a team of doctors that is prepared to clone a human being before Congress has a chance to ban the procedure, and that eight people have already volunteered to be cloned.

The scientist, G. Richard Seed, is a PhD physicist who has been involved in fertility research since the early 1970s but currently has no university or research laboratory affiliation. Several people familiar with Seed said that he is known for his eccentric views and doubted he would follow through with his plan. But others said Seed has the technical and entrepreneurial expertise - and philosophical commitment to radical science - to accomplish the feat.

"Richard is a brilliant man," said Harrith Hasson, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago's Weiss Memorial Hospital, who has worked with Seed. "He is a little crazy but we all have to be a little crazy to get to that level. And if anyone can make [human cloning] happen it would be someone like Richard Seed."

Seed appears to be the first scientist to state plainly that he has both the means and the intention to clone a human being. President Clinton last year banned the use of federal money to conduct human cloning experiments, and has requested that privately funded enterprises adhere to a voluntary ban on human cloning.

A national bioethics commission last year recommended that Congress enact a law that would make human cloning illegal, saying it posed unacceptable medical risks and raised deeply troubling ethical questions.

Cloning is an experimental method for replicating adult animals that was made famous last year when scientists in Scotland used it to make Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal.

In humans, the method would start with a single cell - any cell may do - taken from the adult who wants to be cloned. Using an electrical jolt, scientists would fuse the genes from that cell with a specially treated donor egg cell whose own genes had been removed. That cell would be allowed to grow into an embryo in the laboratory. The embryo would be implanted into the womb of a surrogate mother, where it would develop into a person genetically identical to the original donor.

Seed first announced his intentions at a Dec. 5 symposium on reproductive technologies in Chicago. "I've got the team together," he said then to a visibly uncomfortable audience.

Tuesday, in a telephone interview, he said that his preparations had since progressed "from 50 percent complete to 90 percent complete" with the assemblage of several physicians - whom he would not name - willing to work with him. He said the group had selected four couples from an initial pool of six that had volunteered to be cloned.

Three of the couples have one infertile partner each, Seed said, and the "first choice" couple is comprised of a man and woman who are both infertile. "The only way they can transmit any of their genes is by cloning," he said.

The work would be done in rented laboratory space until a new lab is built, said Seed, who acknowledged that one reason he was announcing his intentions was to help attract venture capital. He said they hadn't decided whether to charge for the first efforts.

Mark Sauer, chief of reproductive endocrinology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, said he was concerned about Seed's plan. "There's little question that it can be done. The question is, should it be done and, if so, under what conditions? It's hard to think of a clinical scenario that's warranted other than doing it for the sensational value."

Joe B. Massey, co-director of Reproductive Biology Associates, a fertility clinic in Atlanta, said "it would be a disservice to our field" to clone a person.

No doctors have stated publicly their willingness to cooperate with Seed, although Hasson said he might be willing if Seed got approval from an ethics review board.

In any case, even that level of review is unusual, said Lori Andrews, a professor of law and bioethics at Chicago-Kent College of Law who has criticized the fertility industry's lack of regulation. Andrews said she would not be surprised if Seed tried to follow through on his plan. "He has a history of applying animal reproductive techniques to humans," she said. But she said there were many reasons to oppose it.

Seed said he would move his operation overseas if Congress or the Food and Drug Administration - which has said it believes it has the power to regulate cloning - tries to impede his work.