WASHINGTON — Italian doctor Severino Antinori, who has announced he will begin to clone humans later this year, has called the Vatican “criminal” for opposing his plans.

Antinori made his remarks at an Aug. 7 conference convened by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington to consider the ethical ramifications of trying to clone humans. The participants were is analyzing the human cloning proposals of Antinori and Panayiotis Zavos, who runs an infertility clinic in Lexington, Ky.

Antinori, whose clinic in Rome enabled a 62-year-old woman to have a baby, confirmed at the conference that he will try to clone humans. His plan calls for the November launching of his cloning program.

Antinori has disclosed that 200 women have been selected worldwide and will be treated for free. Most of them cannot have children because their husbands are sterile.

The U.S. House of Representatives July 31 approved a broad ban on human cloning, including for research purposes.

The fertility specialist acknowledged that, given the international hostility against human cloning, he might be forced to work in a foreign country or on a ship in international waters.

Speaking to a crowd of reporters immediately after addressing the conference, Antinori condemned the House ban and said it was his “human right” to pursue human cloning research, Pro-life E-news reported.

Antinori blamed “religious fanatics” for organizing opposition. “The Pope is screaming at me,” he said. “He wants to avoid the condom and IVF. Nobody announced the criminal when President Bush met in Rome the Pope. Vatican is behind the Bush, Vatican is criminal.”

Brigitte Boisselier of Clonaid, an enterprise offering cloning services on Internet for $200,000, defended Antinori's project at the National Academy of Sciences meeting.

Clonaid was founded in 1997 by a racing car driver who changed his name to Rael and launched the Raelian Movement, a UFO group that maintains that life on earth was created by extraterrestrial scientists.

Boisselier is a bishop in the movement, according to its Web page.

Most Clones Die

Rudolph Jaenisch of the White-head Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pioneer in animal cloning, warned about the pitfalls of human cloning.

Jaenisch explained that only 1% to 5% of cloned animals survive. The errors and aberrations observed in animals indicate that at present human cloning is “dangerous and scarcely developed technically,” he said.

Alan Colman, research director of PPL Therapeutics in Scotland, another cloning specialist, told the conference that cloning in animals is improving and he expects much greater efficiency as techniques get better, Associated Press reported.

“The bottom line is practice makes perfect,” he said. “But is it ethical to practice in humans? I think it isn't.”

(From staff files and Zenit, a Rome-based news agency)