A Harvard professor this week petitioned the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act to make public information relating to the laboratory cloning of human beings.
Jonathan R. Beckwith '57, professor of Microbiology and Modern Genetics at the Med School, said yesterday he filed the suit in response to claims of a soon-to-be published book that doctors secretly created a human baby through cloning.
"There is a reasonable chance that it's a hoax," Beckwith said, but added that scientists may be able to perform successfully this procedure in the near future.
Beckwith said he fears the possible implications of such research. "Considering the present social and scientific climate, I have a strong feeling it would be used in bad ways," he said.
Dr. Ethan R. Signer, professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who also called for release of information concerning cloning experiments, said cloning is "an abomination," because scientists may use this knowledge in an attempt to improve the human race by controlling hereditary factors.
Cloning is a procedure that transplants the nucleus of a donor cell into a fertile egg cell from which the nucleus has been removed, thereby creating an individual genetically identical to the donor. Scientists have successfully cloned frogs but have been unable to clone mammals.
David Rorvik, the author of the book that stirred the controversy, claims that doctors successfully cloned a human male, now 14-months old, from the cell of a wealthy donor.
"Cloning is an ethical, legal and psychological question as well as a political one," Beckwith said. "Research costs taxpayers money and people have a right to know what's going on."