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March 5, 2009

The Nightmare of the Three Clones



Catchy, what?

It's not the title of a new horror flick but, rather, that of a letter to the Italian magazine Oggi about an article featured in its latest  edition, namely an interview with embyrologist Severino Antinori in which he makes the explosive claim to have cloned three humans nine years ago, all three of whom currently live in Eastern Europe.

Reader MAO in Amsterdam kindly emailed me yesterday with a translation of the Oggi letter, noting that he may take up the subject on his EuroSavant blog:


In the meantime, here's his email and translation — nothing has been lost, at least not that I can tell.


Dear Dr. Stirt,

The editorial in the Italian magazine "Oggi" that you link to is actually a rather alarmed and angry letter to Oggi from a noted Italian expert on bioethics, Andrea Monti, a lawyer who, according to the Italian Wikipedia, is the founder of the Italian Biotech Law Conference, "the primary scientific event dedicated to the study of the connections between life science and the law."

Here is my translation of that text:


The Nightmare of the Three Clones

Dear Director [i.e. of Oggi magazine],

this number of Oggi contains a piece of news that one should handle with care. Prof. Severino Antinori, the controversial but also omnipresent-in-the-media proponent of assisted procreation, literally says in the interview on page 36: "There are three children which I assisted in being born by cloning." And he adds numerous elements to support such an affirmation. Yes, you understood that well. But I take up again the same point: in some city or village in Eastern Europe there would be circulating three human beings — three children of ten years of age, two male and one female, whom we imagine to be cheerful and hope to be happy — the fruit of a genetic manipulation similar in all respects to that which, in the 1990s, brought to birth by cloning the sheep Dolly. Three human beings genetically modified, children of a science that explores its extremes, certainly not the result of a natural course of human events. I hesitate to define them as clones because, just by existing in fact, they would nonetheless be the fruit of a conscious decision of their parents. Even of a very debatable act of love. Provided that the parents and their related cloned children really exist.

This is not the first time that Dr. Antinori has claimed to have practiced cloning. But never so clearly, with such a wealth of particulars. For obvious reasons of privacy, Oggi is not in a position to check on the truth of his affirmations. To be certain, we make him confirm it before publication. On one thing Antinori is certainly right: as our expert Edoardo Rosati explains in the article, the technique to which he refers could work and is certainly within his scientific toolbag. In Italy cloning is forbidden in all forms by the Law 40. No legislation in Western countries authorizes this sort of human practice. Antinori maintains that, in his case, its a matter of therapeutic cloning because he went to help a father who could not produce sperm.

From the rise to prominence of the case of Eluana [the young lady on life-support who recently prompted an Italy-wide controversy about whether to let her die that recalled the case in the US about Terry Schiavo], we have been coming to blows about the themes of bioethics and the limits of science. Fine: here's one that it's better not to cross. I have great respect for the scientific community and for its capacity to produce innovative thought. It does not have to disturb the ethics, the morals, and the reflection that come from the religious world. With a little good sense, science comes to us by itself, respecting its rules. Cloning is in fact an experiment that researchers carry out having only an still-approximate familiarity with the infinitesimal mechanisms of genetics and of life. What science deserving of the name would carry out an experiment without being able to predict and control the consequences? Literature is filled with worlds populated by clones, and none of them resembles Eden. But I speak of the material consequences, the measurable, the organic: it is noted, for example, that the sheep Dolly aged prematurely, suffered a sort of cellular disintegration. Certainly a system for understanding this would be: try it out. Test the consequences of the experiment on a living being. But experiments on man are forbidden, not to mention execrable, and at least on this point I think we are all in agreement. So cloning, even before being illegal, is illogical. It is not a scientific practice, at least not one of the senses. Antinori, who is not inexperienced, knows these things very well. He has spoken without censure in your magazine and mine. By this I expect a response.

Andrea Monti


Now, would one of my Italian fans who from time to time attest their true love for bookofjoe kindly set aside childish things and prove their love by sending me a translation of the Oggi article itself?

It begins on page 36.

In return, I will feature you and/or your website or do you whatever big favor you request that me and my crack research team are capable of making happen.

March 5, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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