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8-Humans: 'Human clone' doctor on hunger strike

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TITLE:  'Human clone' doctor on hunger strike
        Advocates argue cloning can help infertile couples
SOURCE: British Broadcasting Corporation
DATE:   Jan 21, 2003

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'Human clone' doctor on hunger strike
Advocates argue cloning can help infertile couples

The controversial Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori has gone on
hunger strike, accusing the authorities of persecuting him for his human
cloning projects.

"From now on I am not eating anything until Prime Minister [Silvio]
Berlusconi meets me and gives me guarantees that Italy is still a free
country for science and for me," Dr Antinori said in front of the seat of
the Italian Government in Rome.

On Monday, police said they were investigating Dr Antinori to determine
whether his Rome fertility clinic doubled as an experimental facility for
cloning procedures.

This followed an announcement last month by a US-based company, Clonaid,
that it had beaten Dr Antinori by producing the world's first clone -
nicknamed baby Eve.

Dr Antinori - who had earlier announced that one of his patients would
give birth to a cloned baby in January - rubbished Clonaid's claims.

Many countries have now introduced legislation to outlaw human cloning.
Italy has a temporary ban on the practice.

Only liquids

Dr Antinori began the hunger strike at noon local time (1100 GMT) in
front of Mr Berlusconi's office.

He said he would refrain from food but would take liquids and return
daily to make his case.

The police investigation, begun at the request of Health Minister
Girolamo Sirchia, was "like in the Holy Inquisition, about my research
and not about crimes," he said.

"This is an attack on science and on the freedom of scientific research,"
Dr Antinori told reporters.

He said he was prepared to die if he did not get what he wanted.

"At least it will be for a good cause," he said.

Opponents of human cloning have described Dr Antinori's work as ethically
irresponsible, warning that even if the process succeeds it may produce
babies with severe defects.

Most scientists doubt, though, whether Dr Antinori really has the
expertise to bring a baby clone into the world.

The 55-year-old was previously best known for his work in in vitro
fertilisation, and in particular for enabling women in their 50s and 60s
to give birth.

He shot to prominence in 1994 when he helped a 63-year-old woman to have
a baby by implanting a donor's fertilised egg in her uterus, making her
the oldest known women in the world to give birth.

Clonaid case

Clonaid has been ordered by a United States court to reveal the
whereabouts of the baby girl it says was born as a result of human
cloning as well as her mother.

The legal moves came after the company said the parents of baby Eve were
reluctant to have the DNA tests as they could be obliged by law to reveal
their identity.

In the absence of any DNA proof, scientists have dismissed Clonaid's
claim that a baby has been cloned.

Clonaid was founded by the Raelian sect which believes humans were cloned
by aliens.