Cult’s claim of first human clone disputed by experts

Canadian sect says member is carrying genetic duplicate of herself.
The Boston Globe, via the Orange County Register, Dec. 21, 2002
By COLIN NICKERSON, The Boston Globe

MONTREAL – Cloning experts dismissed as reckless and unreliable a Canadian cult’s announcement that one of its female followers is carrying the world’s first human clone.

The Quebec-based Raelians, a group that believes life on Earth was created by superintelligent space aliens, says one of its female followers is carrying the world’s first human clone, and said Thursday that the baby will be delivered on or about Christmas.

“These are totally irresponsible experiments, and these people are totally without scientific credibility,” said Rudolf Jaenisch, a professor of biology and an internationally renowned transgenic researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Whitehead Institute. “Their tales are fantastic.”

The Raelians, a Quebec-based, free-love sect whose efforts to replicate humans have horrified ethicists and mainstream scientists, is believed to have spent millions of dollars in the effort to fulfill one of the visions of its French-born founder, Claude Vorilhon, who calls himself the Prophet Rael.

The movement’s bishop and chief scientist, Brigette Boisselier, said that the sect’s biotech company, Clonaid, has implanted an American woman with a clone of herselfand that the baby will be delivered by caesarean section..

“We are well-advanced and the first baby is due for the end of this year,” said Boisselier, a biochemist. “We are expecting a healthy girl.”

The announcement came just weeks after Italian scientist Severino Antinori said his research team was working with a woman who will give birth to a cloned boy in January.

Vorilhon, 55, made world headlines earlier this year when he testified before the U.S. Congress during a debate on human cloning, defending it as the “key to eternal life. That’s the goal.”

The Raelians were forced to close a West Virginia laboratory two years ago after the federal government warned the group it would not allow experiments on cloning humans. The sect has refused to disclose where its ongoing experiments are taking place.

Boisselier said the cloned baby was created by taking genetic material from an infertile woman and inserting it into an egg cell taken from another Raelian female follower. The embryo was then transplanted into the uterus of the mother-to-be, who – if the story is true – is carrying an exact genetic duplicate of herself.

The Raelians have offered no hard evidence that they have created an embryonic clone or even that they are carrying out serious scientific experiments. But the movement, which claims 5,000 followers – mainly in French Canada, Europe, and Japan – is believed to have substantial financial assets and reportedly has operated laboratories in Canada, Switzerland, and South Korea, as well in the United States.

Vorilhon has boasted that the sect has 100 specially chosen female adherents – members of an elite “Order of Angels” – who are lending their eggs and wombs to clone experimentation.

“They appear to have resources, and human cloning is not technologically out of the question,” said Mike Kropveld, executive director of Info-Cult, a Montreal-based organization that tracks fringe religious movements. “Still, most people are skeptical that they are even really involved in anything. They may be just mining the mother lode of free publicity.”

Based in Valcourt, Quebec – where the sect operates a sort of space-alien theme park called UFOland – the Raelians advocate free love and believe that extraterrestrials hatched humanity in a laboratory 25,000 years ago then transplanted the new race to earth. Thus, in seeking to clone followers, “They are re-enacting their own creation myths,” Susan Palmer, a professor of religion at Dawson College in Montreal and author of a forthcoming book on the Raelians, told the Globe and Mail newspaper.

Vorilhon, the former editor of a French auto-racing magazine, founded the sect in 1973 after claiming to have encountered green-skinned beings emerging from a flying saucer during a mountain hike. According to Raelian teaching, the aliens explained that humanity had been created through DNA technology, then whisked Vorilhon to their planet where his sexual needs were serviced by female robots and where he met Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha.

Boisselier said that as soon as the cloned baby is born, the group would allow blood tests comparing the DNA of mother and child.

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