Human clone spawns bitter debate

AFP, Dec. 28, 2002

The announcement by a controversial sect that it has cloned the world’s first baby has intensified the international debate on whether to ban human cloning.

The claim by the Raelian movement that a cloned baby, initially named Eve, was born, has been greeted with widespread scepticism and concern.

But if Eve is confirmed as a clone, it would force governments to speed up their decision-making as Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal, did in 1996.

Brigitte Boisselier, president of the Clonaid company, which is funded by the Raelians, has not given independent proof that the baby is an identical copy of its mother, as claimed.

But Boisselier promised that tests would be carried out by an independent journalist and released in about nine days.

Much of the scepticism arises from Clonaid’s parentage. It is funded by the Raelian movement which believes mankind was created by extra-terrestrials.

But William Muir, a professor of genetics at Purdue University in Indiana, said that if Clonaid is willing to give real access to the baby and mother “my guess is it is in fact real, otherwise they’d try to hinder your access.”

But he predicted that if Eve is a real clone, “there is going to be tremendous negative reaction from the world scientific community and the public at large to this because reproductive cloning is not saving life, but trying to create life.”

He said Clonaid’s action could backfire on efforts to pursue therapeutic cloning to find cures to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.

Stanford University in California this month became the first major institution in the United States to publicly admit it was carrying out stem-cell cloning research in a bid to advance the fight against incurable illnesses.

In November last year, Advanced Cell Technology, a private company, announced it had produced cloned human embryos to obtain stem cells. That set off a major ethical debate on the methods used and the results.

Efforts to decide a global position on human cloning have become deadlocked. A UN legal committee was unable to reach agreement on a draft international accord banning human cloning this year after the United States forced a delay. A working group is to convene again in September.

France and Germany are proposing a ban on human cloning for reproductive purposes, while the United States and Spain, backed by the Roman Catholic church and predominantly Catholic countries, want a total ban on human cloning.

Like the Vatican, the administration of US President George W Bush believes that from the moment of conception, an embryo is a human being, who must not be killed.

Through a spokesman, Bush repeated his call for a ban on human cloning in the United States. “Despite the widespread scepticism among scientists and medical professionals about today’s announcement, it underscores the need for the new Congress to act on bipartisan legislation to ban all human cloning,” spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Washington also has pledged to work for a global ban on human cloning and opposes the French-German proposal.

State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassell said the US-Spanish draft had 37 sponsors while the French-German proposal had only 21.

President Jacques Chirac of France has called for the United Nations to ban the cloning of humans “as quickly as possible.” France has said it will play a leading role in opposing human reproduction through such science.

Clonaid is the first of about six pregnancies resulting from cloned human embryos have been reported in the United States and Italy.

The breakthrough, if confirmed, is likely to further stir the anger and fear of opponents who see the door opening to a future of modified human beings, organ banks for the rich and the breakdown of family and social structures.

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)