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Cloned baby? Science shows it’s snake oil

The Straits Times, Singapore
June 24, 2004
Chang Ai-Lien
straitstimes.asia1.com.sg

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Thursday June 24, 2004

Cult-linked Clonaid, whose success claims haven’t been substantiated, now says S’pore couples are trying its controversial method

Would you put your well-being in the hands of people who believe aliens created mankind?

If you do, then you would no doubt like to be acquainted with the dubious cult-linked firm Clonaid.

It has, among other things, claimed cloning successes and even plans to repeat its feat for Singaporean couples. But there is nothing to suggest that the group is doing anything more than preying on the desperate, and peddling scientific snake oil.

Just last week, a Clonaid representative claimed that two Singaporean couples, having exhausted all known means of making babies, have agreed to try this controversial method.

Responding to this, the Health Ministry reiterated the stance of reputed scientists worldwide, that the claims made by Clonaid have neither been verified by any reputable authority, nor supported with any scientific evidence.

Indeed, the firm’s announcement in December 2002 that it had produced the first cloned human, a baby girl called Eve, was met with great scepticism.

Many critics believed that the move was a hoax to gain publicity for the Raelians, who have a history of developing schemes for media coverage, partly to attract members.

A simple DNA test could have proven if the child was a true clone by showing whether its DNA matched those of the mother, but Clonaid said ‘no’.

Clonaid was founded by former French journalist Claude Vorilhon, the leader of the Raelians. Mr Vorilhon, who calls himself Rael, claims a space alien visiting him in 1973 revealed that extraterrestrials had created all life on Earth through genetic engineering.

The secretive company, which keeps its locations and staff strength a mystery, claims to have cloned 13 babies so far.

The secrecy is not surprising, since the act is considered morally abhorrent, and is banned in many countries, including Britain, Australia, France and Japan.

In Singapore, the Health Ministry said it will soon be introducing a Bill to prohibit such activities here, with offenders facing years behind bars.

But Clonaid continues with its assertions – saying that thousands of families have contacted it over the last two years ‘in the hope of seeing a later born twin of their deceased family member be born again’.

‘Contrary to what some bad movies try to make people believe, cloning a deceased person is not about exploiting people in difficult times, but about providing another option for them instead of grief and despair,’ the company said on its website.

But at a reported US$200,000 (S$343,500) a pop, it seems as though Clonaid is looking to provide only the rich with this opportunity.

Its claims are also getting more interesting.

‘In a not-too-distant future, advanced cloning technologies will allow us to even recreate a deceased person in an adult body, with all his past experiences and memories, allowing mankind to enter the age of immortality as it has been announced by His Holiness Rael, founder of Clonaid, in 1973 already, after his contact with the Elohim, mankind’s extraterrestrial creators,’ the company said.

For those who believe its claims, the scientific facts should disabuse them of its credibility.

Cloning is still in its embryonic stage. Even the experts do not fully understand why zapping an egg with electricity or chemical triggers can trick it into dividing – the first step in the formation of new life.

Also, the research is characterised more by failure than success, with barely one in 100 cloned animal embryos surviving to birth.

Of those that live, many have health problems such as heart, lung and weight abnormalities.

Even those which make it to adulthood may carry subtle genetic abnormalities that could cause medical problems later on in life. This was possibly the fate of the late Dolly, the first animal cloned from adult cells.

It will probably be years before science understands the complexities of how to clone a human without introducing the tiny genetic errors that could create deformed and diseased offspring.

Till then, even those with no qualms about the ethics of producing a mirror image of themselves would be wise to wait.

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