Scientist in Clone Tests Says Hoax Is Possible

The New York Times, Jan. 7, 2003
http://www.nytimes.com/
By KENNETH CHANG

The science journalist who agreed to oversee tests to determine whether a 12-day-old baby is the first human clone suspended his participation yesterday, saying the entire project might be “an elaborate hoax.”

The journalist, Dr. Michael A. Guillen, a former science editor for ABC News, had been enlisted by the private cloning company Clonaid to assemble a team of independent scientists to do DNA tests on the baby and her mother. His role seemed to lend credibility to a claim for which the company provided no evidence.

But in a statement, Dr. Guillen said yesterday that the scientific team “has had no access to the alleged family, and therefore cannot verify firsthand the claim that a human baby has been cloned.”

“In other words,” he added, “it’s still entirely possible Clonaid’s announcement is part of an elaborate hoax intended to bring publicity to the Ralian movement.”

Clonaid was founded by Ral, the leader of a sect that believes all life on Earth was created by space aliens via cloning.

The company’s chief executive, Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, said late last week that the parents of the baby, called Eve, might never allow genetic testing because a Florida lawyer asked a court in Broward County, Fla., to appoint a guardian for the baby. Dr. Boisselier said the parents feared that testing could lead to legal actions to take the baby from them.

The company announced on Saturday that a second cloned baby was born on Friday to a Dutch couple, but again provided no evidence.

In his statement, Dr. Guillen said “veterans from two highly respected DNA testing facilities” had agreed to conduct the tests.

He left open the possibility that tests could be done later.

“When and if an opportunity to collect DNA samples as promised does arise, however, the team stands fully prepared to remobilize and conduct the necessary tests,” he said.

Representatives of Dr. Guillen said he was not available for interviews. Officials of Clonaid did not return phone calls asking for comment.

The chorus of scientific critics of human cloning for reproduction was joined yesterday by Dr. Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Scotland, leader of the team that cloned the sheep Dolly in 1997. Dr. Wilmut, along with Dr. Randall Prather of the University of Missouri and Dr. Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh, declared in a statement that human clones would most likely suffer the same abnormalities that have been seen in cloned animals.

Dr. Prather said, “Until there is compelling and scientifically validated evidence that the situation is different in human embryos, it is grossly irresponsible to attempt to clone children.”

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