Raelians to make announcement today in Florida; scientists question veracity
The Globe and Mail, Dec. 27, 2002
By GLORIA GALLOWAY
With reports from Agence France-Presse and Associated Press
A company founded by a Quebec-based cult that believes space aliens created humanity is set to announce that it has successfully produced the world’s first human clone: a baby girl born to an American woman in her 30s.
Clonaid will make the announcement at a hotel in Hollywood, Fla., this morning. The company was founded five years ago by the Raelians, a cult that built a UFO theme park in Quebec’s Eastern Townships and argues that humans have the right to reproduce in any way they wish.
Brigitte Boisselier, the chief scientist at Clonaid, who identifies herself as a Raelian bishop, told a wire service that the little girl was born yesterday by cesarean section.
The birth “went very well,” said Dr. Boisselier, who says she has two degrees in chemistry and was previously a marketing director for a chemical company in France.
The cloning experiment by the Raelians was carried out in the utmost secrecy, and it was not immediately possible to obtain any independent scientific confirmation that the baby is in fact a clone.
But Nadine Gary, a spokeswoman for Dr. Boisselier, said yesterday the group will have an “independent inspector” take DNA evidence from the mother and the baby to determine whether the two are genetically identical.
Neither the mother nor the daughter will be available at the news conference “for medical reasons,” Ms. Gary told The New York Times. But video equipment will be available, she said, presumably to provide footage of the cloning experiments and the birth.
The mother is said to be an American woman who is unable to have children with her husband naturally.
Dr. Boisselier told CTV last week that it “would be nice” if the birth should occur on Christmas Day. Although the company missed the target by one day, the birth undoubtedly will be big news around the world — and in the scientific community where the Raelians have been met with more than mild skepticism.
Clonaid says it created the baby girl by taking genetic material from the mother and inserting it into a hollowed-out egg donated by a Raelian woman. The refilled egg was replanted into the uterus of the woman being cloned.
The Clonaid report is the second in as many months that a group has created the first human clone. Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori said in November that he had implanted the clone of a male patient into a woman who would give birth in January.
And U.S. embryologist Panayiotis Zavos has said he too will soon be making clones of infertile couples.
When reached at his home in Lexington, Ky., last night, he accused the Raelians of engineering fake results rather than a real clone.
“I sat beside those people [at scientific conferences],” he said. “I touched them, I smelled them, and they are not real. . . . This is real life, this is serious business. Those people don’t know how to play the game seriously.”
The Raelians, Dr. Zavos said, have managed to capitalize heavily on their assertions of successful cloning. Since news reports of their experiments have hit the mainstream press, he said people have been joining the cult in droves.
Even though Clonaid has promised independent verification, Dr. Zavos said it will mean nothing unless it comes from someone who is recognized and respected by the scientific community.
“The real world is based on facts,” he said, adding that it would be very easy to take two DNA samples from the same person and claim they came from the baby and the person who is the infant’s clone.
The company has not yet named the person who will provide an independent opinion about the veracity of its work.
The founder of the Raelian movement, former French journalist Claude Vorilhon, lives in Quebec. He describes himself as a prophet and says cloning will enable humanity to attain eternal life.
This is not the Raelians’s first publicized attempt to create a cloned human being. Last year, they said they were attempting to clone a couple’s dead infant.
Patricia Baird, who headed the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies more than a decade ago, has said cloning cells to produce live organisms is “reprehensible, indefensible and arrogant.”
Aside from the ethical issues, most scientists have scoffed at efforts to clone human beings and say the technology is not yet advanced enough to create a successful attempt.