US lawyer and wife wanted scientists to clone their dead son but severed links after row over publicity
The Sunday Telegraph (England), Dec. 29, 2002
When Mark and Tracy Hunt’s son Andrew died after heart surgery aged only 10 months in 1999, the couple were inconsolable. “I couldn’t accept it was over for our child. I couldn’t accept death as the end,” Mr Hunt said at the time.
Unable to cope with their grief, the Hunts froze some of Andrew’s cells and began the quest to recreate him. Their research led them to Brigitte Boisselier.
Within a year the couple had spent more than $500,000 ( pounds 315,000) to equip a secret laboratory where Miss Boisselier’s three American-trained scientists began trying to clone Andrew. More than 50 women, including Miss Boisselier’s daughter, offered to bear the clone and the Hunts became convinced that the birth of Andrew’s “twin” would become a reality.
Mr Hunt, 41, a lawyer from Charleston, South Carolina, who has run for Congress, was so beguiled by the thought that he stifled any moral misgivings. “Not since Jesus spoke to Lazarus and told him to “come forth’ from the grave has a human being been able to bridge the great gulf of death,” he said.
“I hoped and prayed that my son would be the first. I decided I would never give up on my child. I would never stop until I could give his DNA a chance. I knew there was a chance: human cloning. To create a healthy duplicate; a twin of our son. I set out to make it happen.”
He rented a classroom in a rundown former high school in the small town of Nitro, West Virginia. Room 201 was transformed into a laboratory. He and Boisselier set up an unregistered company called Bioserv Inc.
The scientists used methods similar to those of Dr Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first clone in 1997. Their work came to the attention of the United States Food and Drug Administration, which last year inspected the laboratory and made Mr Hunt and Miss Boisselier promise to halt their efforts. Although Miss Boisselier signed a statement to that effect, she later vowed to continue.
The Hunts became disillusioned by Miss Boisselier’s constant courting of the media and despite their protests, she called several press conferences saying that the birth of the world’s first human clone was imminent. The Hunts severed all links. But they have not given up hope.
“We knew she was a member of a crazy UFO cult, but that was her business,” Mr Hunt said. “But if the technology became available, we would use it.
“I wanted to do everything I could for my son. I know he is dead and nothing can bring him back. I knew cloning would make a twin of him – it wouldn’t be the same body. But that would be better than nothing.”
Mr Hunt is dismissive about claims that a cloned baby would be at risk of birth defects and believes that the decision to get involved should be left to the individuals concerned. “Animal cloning has been extremely successful,” he said. “The cloned mice, for example, live full lifespans and reproduce normally.
“Cloning, like other reproductive issues, should be a private decision. And though we spent a lot of money, it was a positive experience for us. It helped us work through the loss of a child. The learning, the talking – they were helpful. I was involved in something and the loss of Andrew wasn’t always there. The emotional pain of losing a child is almost physical.
“I know cloning will happen. It didn’t for us, but if we had created a twin for Andrew, it would have been wonderful.”