CTV (Canada), Dec. 18, 2002
An international fringe religion based in Quebec says it is about to make human cloning a reality. A spokesman for the Raelian organization told CTV News that a baby girl is expected to be born in the next 14 days.
The group, which advocates the cloning of humans, created a company called Clonaid in 1997. The company’s web site says its “main goal is to give life to the first human clone.”
Brigitte Boisselier, a biochemist and director of Clonaid, said in a phone interview the company successfully implanted 10 cloned embryos. She said the company perfected its technique after practicing on 300 embryos.
Clonaid said five pregnancies ended in miscarriage but that five are doing well. The baby will be born via caesarean section at an undisclosed facility, Clonaid said.
The company’s claim is that the girl is the genetic duplicate — or clone — of the mother, a woman in her 30s.
Clonaid told CTV’s Avis Favaro that it has four more viable pregnancies due in February and that it plans to implant another 20 cloned embryos next month.
Favaro said the company has given the rights to film the development in the next two weeks to an American film production company and that it will be allowed to do the blood testing — the DNA fingerprinting — to see if this is a clone.
Scientists say it’s an unlikely achievement but it’s not impossible.
“It has been possible after many attempts to clone other mammalian species,” said Prof. Lawrence Smith of the University of Montreal. “There’s no reason to think that human beings would be any different than other animals.”
To make a clone, scientists take DNA from an adult cell and inject it into a hollowed-out egg from a young woman donor. The egg is then subjected to a jolt of electricity that begins the formation of an embryo.
At least one doctor says Clonaid’s claims are all the more plausible because they have a large number of young women followers who are willing egg donors.
“It is certainly possible that they have accomplished what they say they have done,” said Prof. Lee Silver, a bioethicist at Princeton University. “The only way to prove it will be to get DNA from the baby and match it with the donor. And if they do match the baby is a clone of that donor.”
Other experts say that even if cloning were possible, the babies would likely be born with severe defects. Cloning research has produced many deformed and dead animals.
“These people who have claimed to clone humans, first of all they are highly irresponsible,” said Rudolf Jaenisch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If they really do it, they will produce abnormal cloned humans.”
Many health agencies around the world are calling for a global ban on human cloning.
“There’s well over two dozen countries who already have legislation banning human reproductive cloning,” said Dr. Patricia Baird of the University of British Columbia. “We have needed it in this country and I hope we get it soon.”
The Raelians are also reported to be in a race with controversial Italian doctor Severino Antinori, who has said he would deliver the first cloned human in January 2003.
The Raelians, who claim 55,000 members worldwide, believe human life was created by DNA brought to earth by an alien race. Their founder and leader is Rael, a former French journalist known as Claude Vorilhon.
“They believe that we were all created by extraterrestrials in test tubes,” said cult expert Mike Kropveld. “They believe, in effect, that we were cloned by our founders.”
The group’s headquarters, called UFO Land, are located in Valcourt, Que., about 200 km east of Montreal.