According to an article in the UK's Sunday Times newspaper, maverick fertility doctor Panos Zavos will open a clinic in central London this summer, where he will offer consultations to infertile couples about the use of reproductive cloning. Last year, Zavos made unsubstantiated claims that he had transplanted a cloned human embryo to a woman, but later said that the pregnancy was unsuccessful because the embryo had not implanted.
Reproductive cloning has been banned in the UK since 2001. But Zavos points out that talking about the use of cloning - and recommending it as a treatment for infertility - is not prohibited. He could suggest the procedure then arrange for it to be carried out abroad, in a country where reproductive cloning is not specifically banned. He also claims to have a laboratory 'overseas' where transfer of cloned embryos could take place.
Zavos told the newspaper that he was in the process of establishing his London office, where he will be 'meeting and counselling patients'. He added: 'If someone wants to bring cloning up for discussion, we will discuss it. It is a free country'. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which licenses and regulates the provision of fertility treatments in the UK would be 'powerless' to prevent this type of consultation occurring: 'We cannot stop Zavos recruiting patients to go abroad', said a spokesperson.
Dr Harry Griffin told the Sunday Times that 'what Dr Zavos is proposing would be wholly unethical'. He added: 'As long as there are different rules in different countries, this sort of situation will arise. This is why there should be an international ban on reproductive cloning'. Griffin's comments are all the more compelling given his position at Scotland's Roslin Institute, the birthplace of Dolly the sheep. Dr Ian Gibson, head of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which is currently reviewing the UK's fertility laws, said that new, more specific legislation should be introduced to stop this sort of loophole arising. He added that Zavos's plans are 'highly irresponsible given that, at this stage, we cannot be sure that the technology is safe'.
Meanwhile, Clonaid, the human cloning company set up by the Raelian religious sect, has claimed that a South African woman is three months pregnant with a clone. According to the firm's director, Brigitte Boisselier, the firm has already produced 13 cloned babies. However, Clonaid has yet to produce any scientific evidence to back up its claims, which are regarded by many as a hoax.