An Oxford University scientist today filed a $7 million libel suit against David Rorvik, author of "In His Image: The Cloning of a Man," and the book's publisher, J. B. Lippincott Co., seeking to have the book declared fiction.
In the suit filed in U.S. District Court here, Dr. J. D. Bromhall charges that the book "defamed" him by quoting from his research on rabbit cell nuclei "so as to create the impression that Bromhall was cooperating or in some way had helped and was vouching or the accuracy or credibility of the book."
The suit also seeks a court order forcing Rorvik and Lippincott to "admit that the book . . . is a fraud and a hoax, that it is fiction and that no cloned boy exists."
Neither Rorvik nor the publisher was available for comment late yesterday.
"In His Image," a best-seller both here and in England, is published as nonfiction. It tells a story of a mysterious millionaire (code name Max) who approaches Rorvik for help in finding a doctor who will "clone" the 60-year-old man - create a perfect genetic copy from a cell from Max's body. A doctor (code name Darwin) makes a spectacular scientific break-through that permits the cell to be implanted in a virgin Asian woman (code name Sparrow) and a baby boy is born in December 1976.
I the book Rorvik refers to much scientific work on the subject of cloning. Most of the scientists quoted have joined Nobel prize winner James Watson in denouncing the book as "pure science fiction silliness.." So far Dr. Bromhall is the only one to sue.
"Malicious libel extends to willful disregard for the truth," says Arthur G. Raynes of Philadelphia, Bromhall's lawyer. "Lippincott is a major medical publisher. They print a disclaimer on the first page saying that Rorvik refuses to divulge who all these code-named people are. And that's all they do. They admit they haven't checked with their own medical editors. They haven't called the people quoted in the book. They don't take any responsibility at all.
"I have called these people.
"First of all before we took the suit I called up a friend of mine who happens to be an embryologist. He said what every other reputable scientist says: this book is a fraud. It is not feasible to clone a human being in the manner described in this book.
"Well, suppose we make up a story. Any kind of story. For example, Jimmy Carter is the illegitimate son of Joe Kennedy. We publish it - can we just walk off with the money? If we quote somebody who seems to say this story is possible, and he feels discredited in scientific circles, doesn't he have any recourse?"
Bromhall says Rorvik wrote him in May 1977, six months after the cloned boy was reportedly born, asking for information on the subject. Bromhall sent Rorvik a nine-page abstract of his research paper on rabbit nuclei. Rorvik refers to Bromhill in the book as a scientist who concludes that his ex-research paper on rabbit nuclei. Rorvik refers to Bromhall in the book as scientist who concludes that his experiments "extends to rabbit, and by inference to other mammals, a possibility of experiments which have so far been restricted to amphibians."
That is a correct quote from Bromhall. But in the English magazine New Statesman (June 2, 1978) Bromhall says that experiments with transfering nuclei in mammal cells are one thing, cloning animals is another. Only frogs have been cloned so far. In no animal, not even the frog, has a clone been produced from an adult cell, which are far too specialized to permit them to be used to form a new organism.
In the book Rorvik says Darwin makes a biochemical breakthrough that allows body cells to "forget their specialities and start all over again."
Bromhall comments "this is the most absurd part of the whole book.Anyone capable of making such a 'breakthrough' would have solved, on the way, most of the problems of tissue regeneration and of cancer development. It would be immoral and probably impossible for him and his team to keep silent about it and they would receive every imaginable Nobel prize on publication.
According to his lawyer, Bromhall will donate the money gained from the suit - if any - to support genuine scientific research.