AFP, Dec. 30, 2002
Amid reactions of horror and consternation at its claims to have produced the world’s first cloned human, the Raelian sect faced a battle to prove its credibility.
A company set up by the Raelians stunned the world Friday with its announcement that an American woman had given birth to a cloned baby the previous day and that four more would be born in coming weeks in Europe, Asia and North America.
But the lack of proof given by the Clonaid company drew widespread scepticism that was underscored by expressions of moral disgust from government and religious leaders.
The Roman Catholic Church highlighted the lack of authentication for the claims.
But Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls went on to say that “the announcement itself is already the expression of a brutal mentality, devoid of any humane or ethical considerations.”
President Jacques Chirac of France said cloning a human being should be made a worldwide crime.
Chirac released a statement saying he “takes this opportunity to reiterate his strong condemnation of all research into human reproductive cloning and to solemnly reaffirm that for France the practice is contrary to human dignity and criminal.”
US President George W. Bush used the announcement to call for Congress to pass legislation banning cloning.
“The president believes, like most Americans, that human cloning is deeply troubling and he strongly supports legislation banning all human cloning,” a spokesman said.
One of the British scientists who produced Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal, in 1996, said the development was “objectionable.”
Harry Griffin of the Roslin Institute told BBC radio that “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.”
He added: “The reasons are very clear and have been very clear to Clonaid and the other groups that have been attempting to clone children.”
British scientist Patrick Dixon, a leading specialist on the ethics of human cloning, said he believed the world would react with “revulsion and disgust” if Clonaid’s claims were proved true.
“There’s a global race by maverick scientists to produce clones, motivated by fame, money and warped and twisted beliefs,” he said.
One of Clonaid’s biggest immediate problems is to overcome the overwhelming distrust of the announcement made by its chief, Brigitte Boisselier, a French chemist and a bishop in the Raelian sect which believes that humans were cloned from extraterrestrials who came to Earth 25,000 years ago.
Boisselier said an independent journalist would monitor verification tests on the mother, a 31-year-old American woman, and the baby girl, who would be an exact copy of the mother.
But there are no plans for more conventional checks such as the publication of a paper after other scientists confirm the facts.
Boisselier said the scientists who worked on the project for Clonaid, which was set up by the Raelians in 1997, had to be protected. A video that was to have been released Friday was held back because the face of one researcher could be seen.
The journalist who will organise the checks is Michael Guillen, who said he has degrees in science and mathematics from the University of California-Los Angeles as well as a doctorate from Cornell University, and had taught physics at Harvard University before becoming a journalist.
“I will be working with a group of world-class experts who will be doing all the testing, not me,” Guillen told AFP.
“One expert will accompany me to the mother and the reported baby. We will take samples, and then those samples will be submitted to two — not one, but two — world-class independent testing labs.”
Guillen said it was “a sobering responsibility.”
Most experts in the field are dubious that any proof will be given.
Robert Lanza, head of medical and scientific development for Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT), a private US genetic research firm, commented: “This is a group that has no scientific track record, never published a single scientific paper in this area. They have no research experience in this area. In fact, they have never even cloned a mouse or a rabbit.”