VOA, Dec. 30, 2002
The cult that claims to have cloned a baby girl says her birth is only the first step in the development of a technology that will eventually lead to instant copies of adults. Despite the prediction, there remains widespread doubt that the cloning occurred in the first place.
The leader of the Raelian sect, a man once known as Claude Vorilhon who now calls himself Rael, says cloning is the way to immortality. He told CBS television, “It’s a big step for human beings in the future.” “It will bring us eternal life,” he added. as reaction mounted to the news last week that Clonaid, a company he founded, had become the first to clone a human being.
Mr. Vorilhon is a former French journalist who believes that space aliens brought life to Earth by cloning. He says cloning creates a copy of a living being, but the duplicate is not the same individual because it takes years to mature and has a different personality and memory. He envisions that an accelerated process might someday allow nearly-instant clones that are exact physical and mental copies of an adult.
“When we reach step two, you can in a few hours have an adult clone of yourself, which will still [not be] you, but then step three will come where you can transfer, download, if you like all data your brain, which makes you who you are your memory, your personality in the new clone body.”
Leaving those predictions aside, many observers doubt that Clonaid has produced a baby by existing cloning methods.
“I don’t believe that this group has the scientific expertise, the know-how, to bring this off [accomplish this],” said Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. He told CBS television that he is skeptical Clonaid was successful in only 10 attempts when leading biologists succeed in cloning animals about once every 400 tries. Furthermore, Mr. Caplan argues that cloning is dangerous for the offspring.
“If you looked at the outcomes of cloning in animals, one-half of the animals that have been cloned are dead within a year and of the survivors almost all of them have health problems,” he said. “I think cloning right now as we understand it is the road to eternal sickness.”
Mr. Caplan says it will be a long time before a healthy human clone is born. But the chief executive officer of Clonaid, chemist and self-described Raelian bishop Brigitte Boisselier, says next week an independent expert will verify the company’s claim for cloning a healthy baby girl. On ABC television, she defended the lack of scientific evidence so far.
“If I had given you any details of all the science we did, you would say, ‘well, you could have made this up,’” she said. “So the only way for me to prove that is to have an independent expert going to the place of the parents, sampling the cells of the baby and the mother, and comparing them with tests that are well known and then you’ll have all the proof you need.”
Ms. Boisselier also says providing details of its cloning work would divulge proprietary data her private company developed.