Doctors ‘set to clone humans’ – flashback

I stumbled across this front-page Saturday Star scoop on a website this week.  I remember spending at least three hours being grilled on live radio about how I investigated this astonishing story as well as the ethics of what the doctors were up to. It was a story I was very proud of at the time, because it stopped experimentation on vulnerable infertile couples. But the couples lost what they saw as a chance to have their own children. The piece also sold a lot of newspapers. Cloning, meanwhile, is making its way back into the headlines. Take a look at the piece and tell me what you think about the issues…

Local (South African) doctors ‘set to clone humans’

Saturday Star (Johannesburg), 14 Febr. 98
by Jackie Cameron (

[ Picture: showed Dr. Mohamed Cassim looking at a glass tube. Photograph by Cathy Pinnock]

I believe that cloning is not about defying the laws of nature — it’s facilitating the laws of nature

A South African doctor and his team are ready to clone humans.

Expertise and equipment to replicate genetic material and create human clones is available at the Johannesburg fertility clinic.

Dr. Mohamed Cassim is preparing an application the University of the Witwatersrand’s ethics committee for permission to go ahead with the cloning.

This controversial step to spearhead groundbreaking research could put South Africa back on the map of medical technology and knowledge for the first time since Dr. Chris Barnard pioneered the first heart transplant more than 30 years ago.

Four Gauteng women, who are desperate to have their own genetic children, will allow Dr. Cassim and his technicians to attempt to create replicas of themselves or their husbands.

Fierce debate

English: Human sperm stained for semen quality...

English: Human sperm stained for semen quality testing in the clinical laboratory. Español: Espermatozoides humanos teñidos para examinar calidad seminal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cloning a human entails removing the nucleus of a human egg cell — the part which contains half of the genetic material required for a human — and replacing it with the nucleus of a cell from another part of the body.

Cloning means that sperm may no longer be required for reproduction; if a couple want a daughter, the entire genetic make-up of the wife is reproduced. Genetic material is taken from the husband if a son is desired.

Cassim is in partnership with a Danish fertility clinic and has received financial assistance for his work into in-vitro reproduction — but not cloning.

Debate rages in the United States and Europe where it is feared that, in the wrong hands, this type of research could lead to a master race or release a science fiction nightmare of cloned dictators.

There are growing concerns in the international community that uneducated, desperate people in Third World countries may be used as guinea pigs for the experiments of scientists from First World countries. Denmark has already banned cloning.

Cassim said he was opposed to cloning without strict regulations and state control, and that he believed it should be utilised only for assisting infertile couples who wanted children who were genetically linked to them.

“In certain circumstances, cloning should be permitted. As a comparison: the atom bomb was bad, but atomic energy is not bad, depending on how you use it.”

Scientists in Scotland cloned a sheep, Dolly, from a cell taken from the udder of a 6-year-old ewe. They published their research last year.

Leading scientists this week demanded proof from Dolly’s creators that she was an authentic adult clone, because other groups have failed to repeat the Dolly experiment. There was speculation that Dolly’s “conception” may have been contaminated unwittingly.

US scientist Dr. Richard Seed vowed recently that within the nest three months he will have made his first attempt to clone a child from a single adult cell in Mexico, where there are no laws banning the practice.

Local (South African) lawyers and government officials are divided over whether human cloning is allowed in terms of our law, but Department of Health spokesman Morris Conradie said his interpretation was that is was illegal in terms of the Human Tissues Act.

“Genetic manipulation of sperm or eggs is not permitted. Cloning, according to our interpretation, falls under genetic manipulation.”

“There is so much happening in this field that most counties will from time to time have to review legislation which covers this. We are in the process of including an ban on human cloning the the new health act.” Conradie said.

Minister of Health Dr. Nkosazana Zuma’s office said she would not be tackling the issue of cloning because the country had more important matters to deal with, “like the backlog in providing basic healthcare services.”

In a series of interviews with the Saturday Star, Cassim said: “Getting the genetic material into an egg to produce a clone is easy. My son could do it. With the technology that we have in our laboratory, the procedure is as easy as fiddling with some controls.”

“The key lies with whether the egg will cleave, or start dividing to produce an embryo. We may have to transfer genetic material into eggs may times before we get an embryo. Scientists and doctors are still not quite sure what the trigger is for eggs to divide.”

“Some people argue that cloning is like playing God. I believe that cloning is not about defying the laws of nature — it’s facilitating the laws of nature.”

Cassim is preparing a “detailed protocol” for the ethics committee in order to attempt to clone children as a research project. He would like to conduct the research with academics from other universities.

“The ethics committee would like to see a lot of background information, particularly focussing on the risks involved to the parents and children. I expect to submit detailed documents to the ethics committee shortly.

Expecting resistance

“There is no law against cloning, but I do not want to lose my licence in the event of the SA Medical and Dental Council ruling at a later stage that what I have done is unethical.”

“There is huge resistance worldwide to cloning, just as there was when testtube babies were first created, so I am expecting resistance here. I have to try to get permission because I feel strongly about helping desperate couples who would like their own children and have no other alternative.”

“Some people argue that cloning is unacceptable in the case of infertile couples because there are other options like donor eggs, sperm and surrogacy. I believe that introducing a third person into a situation could be argued as less ethical than cloning.” Cassim added.

Are third world countries being chosen as fertile ground for odious cloning process?

Saturday Star, Johannesburg, 21 February 1998
Letter to the Editor, by Angus Durran, Director, MAV Health Clinic, Halfway House (South Africa)

Dear Sir,

I refer to Jackie Cameron’s report on the posibility of cloning humans (Saturday Star, February 14th). As a founder member of the Safe Food Coalition which was established last year to warn producers, retailers and consumers of the dangers of genetically engineered foods, I cannot believe that a similar practice is even being considered in humans.

It is ironic that Dr. Mohamed Cassim is in partnership with a Danish fertility clinic as Denmark has banned human cloning.

The question then arises: Does Cassim really feel strongly about helping the infertile couples who would like their own children and have no alternative, or is this an opportunity for the Danish clinic to make a lot of money? Perhaps egoism is involved .. the desire to be the first in this field of science?

“The right of parents to fulfil their desires to control the characteristics of their child must be balanced by the individual rights of the child and by the collective rights of all future generations. The child will have to live throughout life with the consequences, both negative and positive, of the parents’ decision to manipulate their child’s genome.”

The above is quoted from the book Genetic Engineering: The Hazards; Vedic Engineering: The Solution by Prof. John Fagan, Ph.D.. The author returned a $600,000 grant to the National Institute of Health in America when he realised the dangers of genetic engineering.

Most first world countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and, more recently, America, have banned genetic engineering in humans.

Obviously, a lot of research has already taken place in these countries. Subsequently, they have realised the dangers of this practice and the ethical mine fileds that they present.

Regulations in Third World countries are more lax, even non-existent. Is it in these countries that humans will be used as guinea pigs? Are the lives of South Africans and their children less valued?

The British Royal Society of Medicine, which has considered the ethics of gene therpay, has stated that there are too many unknowns in the possible outcome to allow the attempt of germ-like therapy.

Another point is that germ-like manipulations alter the reproductive cells. Thus errors caused by germ-like genetic manipulations will not only be transmitted to every cell of the individual’s body, but will also be transmitted to the individual’s children and to each subsequent generation. In effect, germ-like manipulation carry the risk of creating heritable diseases, birth defects and cancer.

The success of the cloning of sheep, specifically “Dolly”, done in Scotland last year, is beginning to be doubted now, so how can we possibly play around with human life, when we cannot even get it right with animals?

In conclusion, may I respectfully suggest to Cassim that if he is really concerned about childless couples, he should investigate the Vedic alternative, which can, and has, produced offspring using natural methods, right here in South Africa.

Angus Durran


One thought on “Doctors ‘set to clone humans’ – flashback

  1. Pingback: Fecundação e gravidez: cada passo | minhaacasa

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