Spotlight on Raelians draws few to lecture

The Seattle Times, Jan. 13, 2003
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/
By Eric Sorensen [esorensen@seattletimes.com], Seattle Times science reporter

As of yesterday, the city’s Raelian population stood at one, with no clones reported.

“I’m the lone Raelian here in Seattle — for that matter, in Washington state,” Karen Heaven said in a University Heights Center classroom as she kicked off a lecture on the Raelian movement, from its belief in aliens to its faith in cloning as the key to eternal life.

The movement’s growth here promises to be slow. Heaven, her given name, said she had 50 e-mails from people saying they were going to come, but as her lecture was about to begin, the crowd consisted of two fellow Raelians from Vancouver, B.C., and Portland; a handful of curiosity seekers, including two members of the Seattle UFO/Paranormal Group, and half a dozen news people.

“It looks like it’s going to be a press conference,” Heaven said.

The audience ultimately grew by five, but it was still small compared with the outsized attention the movement has received since the Raelian-funded Clonaid last month made the as-yet-unverified claim that it had cloned a human being.

Still, Denise Belisle, the Vancouver Raelian, said the Seattle area should be receptive to what she considered the scientific basis of the movement.

“It’s a technology town,” she said. “… Microsoft brings a lot of scientific minds in that sense. People are more open to technology here than in a town that is surrounded by big churches.”

Heaven, an Australian-born actor, and Belisle gave a fairly low-key presentation on Raelianism, starting with a 16-minute video that sketched out what they say is evidence of UFOs, complete with obscure experts and grainy pictures, and told the basic story of how Claude Vorilhon, now known as Rael, was visited in 1973 by space aliens who told him they created humans through genetic engineering.

Rael created Clonaid soon after the birth of Dolly, the cloned sheep, in 1997. The movement now expects science will advance to where a clone will be grown from embryo to adult in two or three hours, Belisle said.

“It sounds like science fiction,” she said, “but cloning was science fiction 50 years ago as well. We have to keep an open mind about future technology.”

Eventually, our memories and feelings might be transferred to a computer, she said. As we are about to die, this data could be transferred into a freshly formed blank copy of ourselves.

There was little discussion of the current ethical controversies surrounding human cloning — its unproven nature, the threat it poses to a mother and fetus, the philosophical issues of creating another human explicitly for one’s own needs. But Belisle noted that in-vitro fertilization some 20 years ago was criticized as “playing God” but said such claims are now discounted.

“It’s a free country, that’s what people say,” said Belisle. “People have a right to choose and have their own way of reproduction.”

But she and Heaven acknowledged they are on controversial ground. Heaven herself has lost friends and lovers over her beliefs. She has not lost any work and in fact will start work soon in a Stephen King movie.

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