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Favorable logistics

In Brazil, infrastructure and human resources for cloning are available

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Brigitte Boisselier, a French biochemist and the chief executive officer of Clonaid, announced in March 2003 that her group would present proof of the first human clone at a parents' gathering in Brazil. She said that Clonaid would offer its services to couples wanting children, gay couples, people with HIV and those who had lost a loved one. Boisselier told reporters she was offering a special discount for human clones to Brazilian customers, approximately $200,000 per clone.

Clonaid, which advertises itself as the first human cloning company and is associated with the Raelians, the Montreal-based cult founded by former French broadcaster Rael, has never provided any proof substantiating the various claims it has made about human cloning.

The only evidence it offered was a photo released March 25, 2003, to the Brazilian press of a so-called human clone. The company claimed to have cloned five babies, with the help of Brazilians. Eve, allegedly the first baby clone, was born on December, 26, 2002 from a North-American couple; a second clone, the daughter of a Dutch lesbian, was born in January, 2003, the group claimed. Other clones, Clonaid said, were born in Japan and Saudi Arabia.

While such sensational announcements about a series of successful births of human clones have been greeted with widespread skepticism and doubt, Boisselier's press conferences helped to spread the notion that human cloning research is going on in Brazil.

An Associated Press report in March 2003, which quoted Boisselier as saying that her group had been invited to speak to the Brazilian parliament, said the legal climate in the country is more sympathetic to cloning.

Yet the country has introduced some restrictions on the use of genetic technologies. The Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology ruled that that human cloning can be deemed illegal under the country's Biosecurity Law 8974, passed in 1995, which prohibits "genetic manipulation of germinative human cells." And Marco Segre, professor of bioethics at Hospital das Clínicas, the biggest public health system in Latin America, pointed out that Brazil's Conselho Federal de Medicina, (Federal Medical Association) had ruled as early as 1992 that assisted reproduction techniques cannot ethically be used for selection of the child's sex.

Whether the legal climate is sympathetic or not, experts say Brazil has the logistics that groups such as Clonaid find attractive. There are private firms focused on human reproduction that have the technological infrastructure needed for human cloning experiments, and "mothers-for-rent," who can supply hundreds of embryos, according to Mauricio Tuffani, a former editor-in-chief of Galileu, the largest Brazilian science magazine. "I talk about logistics because…the technical-scientific aspects [of cloning] are not mysteries any more."

"Technically, cloning looks feasible in Latin America," said Gildo Magalhães, a mathematician who has been teaching bioethics to doctoral candidates at the University of São Paulo, the biggest in Brazil, since 1997. "In Brazil, there have already been attempts to clone a calf," he added. "In principle, an extension of [such research] to human beings is possible."

"However," he added, "there are deep doubts about how the cloning process will unfold in all of its aspects, as demonstrated also by the premature aging of the first [mammal to have cloned from an adult cell], Dolly, the sheep."

An outcome of the ongoing debate on cloning in Brazil has been the growth of bioethics as a discipline in recent years, especially in academics.

Bioethicist Segre stressed the importance of the field. In the wake of public pronouncements such as the ones made by Clonaid, Third World countries must discuss bioethics more than others, he said.

Brazil is not the only South American nation that has the technical capability and infrastructure to do cloning research.

"In Latin America, I can say that in Buenos Aires there are some groups technically capable to do it. But they have less favorable conditions than us, Brazilians," Tuffani said.

Argentina has, however, prohibited human reproductive cloning research by federal law. Three provinces, including Buenos Aires, have banned human cloning as well.

Ecuador and Peru also have outlawed both reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Colombia prohibits reproductive cloning but allows cloning research for therapeutic purposes.