April 23, 2009 -- A controversial fertility doctor claims to have cloned human embryos and implanted them into four women's wombs. And while none of 11 embryos he claims to have cloned resulted in a viable pregnancy, Dr. Panayiotis Zavos said he'll continue trying to clone a human embryo.
"We managed to write chapter one. Chapter two, we will have a child a parent can take home and raise as a cloned child," Zavos said.
His hope is that the birth of the first human clone is just a few years away.
On the Brink of Cloning Humans?
Zavos story may sound like a science fiction tale, but he claims it's all true. Zavos said he cloned 14 embryos, but only implanted 11. The procedures were recorded for a documentary that aired Wednesday on the Discovery Channel in Britain.
Scientists have cloned human embryos in test tubes in order to harvest stem cells, but Zavos has done what is considered taboo -- actually implanting the embryos.
Both the pope and President Obama have denounced human cloning.
"It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society," Obama has said.
But Zavos is unconcerned about what world leaders may think about his research.
"We're not going to be judged by the politicians or clergymen, but rather by the fertility or infertility patients that want a child of their own," Zavos said. "Those clones are going to vote for those politicians some day. And they will get to love them."
Though Zavos is a naturalized U.S. citizen, it's believed he carried out the cloned embryo procedures somewhere in the Middle East in order to evade the U.S. ban on human cloning, Agence France Presse reported.
Reaction to the claim was swift, as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a statement calling attempts at human cloning unethical.
"Nine years ago, The Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a report calling attempts at human cloning unethical," the ASRM statement said. "This statement was reviewed in 2006. The statement concludes, 'As long as the safety of reproductive SCNT is uncertain, ethical issues have been insufficiently explored, and infertile couples have alternatives for conception, the use of reproductive SCNT by medical professionals does not meet standards of ethical acceptability.' Nothing we have seen since has caused us to change our views. Any attempt to create a cloned human embryo for gestation and birth is ethically, scientifically, and clinically unacceptable."
The Ethics of Human Cloning
"Dr. Zavos has a lot of clients who want to be cloned or have their deceased offspring cloned and they are willing to pay a lot of money to do it," said David Prentice, a senior life sciences fellow with the Family Research Council.
One example is a 10-year-old named Cady, who was killed in a car accident. Zavos took cells from the morgue and fused them with a cow's egg to create what he said was a viable embryo.
"It is really something that involves a lot of hubris to think you can do that," Prentice said.
Zavos said he would never implant a human-cow embryo into the womb because it would be unethical.
"We're not interested in cloning the Michael Jordans and Michael Jacksons of the world, but rather assisting infertile couples that deserve the right to have a biological child to have one," he said.
But his dreams of successfully cloning the first human may take years, if not longer.
It took 276 failed attempts to implant a cloned embryo to end up will Dolly the Sheep. Zavos said he will to continue his research in order to reach his goal.
HealthDay News contributed to this story.