Clonaid says DNA proof forthcoming; experts are skeptical
AP, Dec. 28, 2002
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Ushering in either a brave new world or a spectacular hoax, a company linked to a religious sect that believes space aliens created human life announced Friday that it has produced the world’s first cloned baby.
A healthy 7-pound girl, nicknamed Eve by scientists, was delivered by Caesarean section Thursday somewhere outside the United States, said Brigitte Boisselier, chief executive of Clonaid. Dr. Boisselier said the girl is an exact genetic copy of the American woman who gave birth to her.
At a news conference, Dr. Boisselier offered no scientific proof, provided no photographs and did not produce the mother or child. She said proof — in the form of DNA testing by independent experts — would be available in eight or nine days.
Cloning experts were skeptical or reserved judgment.
“The whole thing is just highly suspect from my point of view,” said Dr. Michael Brown, a Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. “No ethical scientist I know of is even contemplating cloning a human being.”
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Among other considerations, Dr. Brown said, the technology now used in animal experiments has a dismally low success rate — 99 percent of cloned embryos are either aborted or deformed. “It’s totally unethical given the current state of our knowledge about how cloning works.”
Although the public might see this work as legitimate, Dr. Brown said, reputable researchers don’t work in such secrecy, unscrutinized by their peers. “The very core of science is you reveal everything,” he said.
The Food and Drug Administration said the agency would investigate whether Clonaid’s experiments violated U.S. law. The United States has no specific law against human cloning. But the FDA contends that its regulations forbid human cloning without prior agency permission. And the agency has no intention of giving the OK.
A White House spokesman said President Bush deplores Clonaid’s aim.
“The president believes, like most Americans, that human cloning is deeply troubling,” said deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan. “And he strongly supports legislation banning all human cloning.”
Such legislation stalled in Congress last summer over whether medical research involving the cloning of human embryonic cells should be allowed. Mr. McClellan said that Clonaid’s announcement “underscores the need for the new Congress to act.”
Clonaid was founded in 1997 by Claude Vorilhon, a former French journalist and leader of a sect called the Raelians. .
Dr. Boisselier described the mother as a 31-year-old with an infertile husband.
Dr. Boisselier said she accepted an offer by former ABC News science editor Michael Guillen. Mr. Guillen, now a free-lance journalist who said he has no connection to Clonaid, said he has chosen “world-class, independent experts” whom he did not identify to draw DNA samples from the mother and the newborn and test them for a match.
Dr. Boisselier contends that defects seen in cloned animals will not necessarily appear in humans. And she defended efforts to clone people.
“If my science is giving babies to parents who have been dying to get one with their own genes, is my science worse than the one preparing bombs to kill people?” she asked. “I am creating life.”
Scientists said they looked forward to the promised proof.
“We’ll wait and see, I guess. I’m still a skeptic and I’m hoping that it’s not true,” said University of Georgia cloning expert Steve Stice.
Mark Westhusin of Texas A&M University, who made headlines in February by cloning a cat, said if Dr. Boisselier’s announcement is true, “I think they are taking a big risk in terms of health hazards to the child.”