Daily Telegraph (England), Dec. 28, 2002
Claims that a US company linked to a cult has created the first human clone have met with growing scepticism.
Leading fertility expert Lord Winston and a prominent Labour MP have both voiced strong doubts about reports that Eve, born by Caesarean section on Boxing Day, is a carbon copy of her mother.
It is claimed the baby was created following an embryo experiment by Clonaid, an organisation which is affiliated to the Raelian sect – a religious cult that believes life on Earth was created by extra terrestrials 25,000 years ago.
Glenn Carter, president of the Raelian religion’s British branch, said the announcement was “absolutely” true and “the evidence to prove it would be provided in the next few days”.
Dr Ian Gibson, Labour chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, said: “There is the suspicion that the actual sect that are claiming it, who have got no track record in this field whatsoever, are perhaps using it for a publicity scheme.”
“They have got to prove they have the experience and I would like inspectors going in to look at their lab in order to see what they know about carrying out that technology,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme. Dr Gibson also called for a Parliamentary review of fertility and cloning technologies.
“These technologies, the questions, the use of the technologies, are raising new moral and ethical morasses for us and we need to debate it seriously over a period,” he said.
Lord Winston, writing in the Mirror newspaper, said today: “I think we should take this with a huge amount of Christmas salt. It’s all predictable. This strange cult is publicity seeking. Nearly all scientists will regard Clonaid’s claim as ludicrous.”
He explained only five species had been cloned, with great difficulty, mouse, pig, cattle, sheep and monkey, and cloning humans would require hundreds of embryos.
Mr Carter, speaking on BBC Radio Five Live, said: “With the greatest respect, every pundit on the subject has no right to tell mature human beings what they can do with their reproductive organs or a way to reproduce a child.”
Brigitte Boisselier, a French chemist and a bishop of the Raelian sect, told a press conference in Hollywood, Florida, yesterday that 7lb Eve was the first of five “successful” embryos. The announcement triggered a chorus of international condemnation, led by the US, which is calling for laws banning all human cloning.
Scientists were waiting to carry out tests to confirm the claims by the Raelians, who were unable to produce any DNA evidence to show a genetic match at a press conference in the United States.
It has not been disclosed where Eve was born but she is expected to leave hospital on Monday with her mother, a 31-year-old American divorcee who already has a child. She was said to have donated her DNA for the cloning process and had the resulting embryo implanted.
Asked if he had any moral doubts about the alleged cloning, Mr Carter said: “Creating life and giving birth to a beautiful baby, I do not have an ethical problem with that.”
But British anti-cloning campaigners have described the birth as an example of the sordid depths to which maverick scientists had plummeted. Meanwhile, US President George W Bush has called on Congress to outlaw human cloning and French President Jacques Chirac branded it “criminal and contrary to human dignity”.
Downing Street left comment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which said it was “concerned” about the development but would reserve judgment until it was convinced the claims were accurate.
Dr Harry Griffin, head of the Roslin Institute which cloned Dolly the sheep, said: “I clearly do find it objectionable. The reasons are very clear and have been very clear to Clonaid and the other groups that have been attempting to clone children.
“All the groups that work on cloning with animals – cattle, sheep, pigs, mice, goats – all have reported a high incidence of miscarriage deaths, high incidence of deaths seen after birth and problems with the clones later on in life. It is not an inevitable consequence of being cloned but it is a common consequence,” he told Radio Four’s Today programme.
Dr Patrick Dixon, a leading expert on the ethics of human cloning, said the world would react with “revulsion and disgust” if the claims were proved.
“There’s a global race by maverick scientists to produce clones, motivated by fame, money and warped and twisted beliefs,” he said. He added: “Can you imagine what it will be like for a 12-year-old daughter to look at her mother and realise she is seeing her own sister? What will it do to her sense of personal identity, knowing that she’s only a copy of someone else who is much older?”
Dr Dixon, author of The Genetic Revolution, claimed that although the baby had not been born in Britain, it was probably British technology which had guided the process.
Jack Scarisbrick, spokesman for action group Life, said: “This is deplorable, assuming it’s true. It’s runaway science.
“We have to keep on reminding ourselves that a cloned human being is an entirely new human being produced asexually without parents in the traditional sense and jerked into life with an electric current. How many died on the way to this? This is yet further commodification and trivialisation of life. Now the Pandora’s Box is open.”
Also attempting to create a human clone is American fertility expert Dr Panos Zavos, who claims his team are set to clone babies for seven infertile couples in the first two weeks of the New Year.
Professor Severino Antinori of Rome also insists that he will produce a cloned baby in January.