A controversial Italian doctor known for his work allowing post-menopausal women to have children has claimed in an interview to have cloned three babies who are now living in eastern Europe.
"I helped give birth to three children with the human cloning technique," Severino Antinori, a prominent gynaecologist, told Oggi weekly in an interview to appear Wednesday.
"It involved two boys and a girl who are nine years old today. They were born healthy and they are in excellent health now."
He did not provide proof of his claims, but said cells from the three fathers, who were sterile, allowed the cloning to be carried out.
The women's egg cells were impregnated in a laboratory through a method called "nuclear transfer," he said.
Antinori, who became famous after allowing a 63-year-old woman to have a child in 1994, said "respect for the families' privacy does not allow me to go further."
He added that the method used was "an improvement" over the technique used to clone Dolly the sheep in 1996.
Reminded by the journalist that such cloning is prohibited in heavily Catholic Italy, the doctor said he preferred to "speak of innovative therapies" or "genetic recoding" rather than cloning.
Two weeks ago, Antinori sparked controversy by announcing that he would artificially impregnate a woman whose husband is in an irreversible coma following a brain tumour.
It would be the first procedure of its kind in Italy if successful.