AFP, Mar. 17, 2003
From correspondents in Tel Aviv
The families of more than 50 Israeli and Palestinian children have appealed to the controversial cloning firm Clonaid to produce copies of their lost relatives, the company’s chief executive has claimed.
“I have had many, many requests from parents whose children were killed here in recent violence,” Clonaid chief Brigitte Boisselier told reporters at a press conference in Tel Aviv.
“Some of them were tiny babies but sometimes they were almost adults – aged 16 to 18.”
She said the requests had come from both Israeli and Palestinian parents.
“Meeting them was very disturbing.”
Boisselier, a French national and former chemist, said the company had received between 50 to 55 requests for help.
“That is a huge number but we can probably work with less than half of them,” she said, explaining that in order to carry out the procedure, Clonaid needed a very healthy cell sample to work with.
“We would have more success with parents whose children were kept in hospital before their death because the hospital would have blood and tissue samples preserved in good condition.”
Boisselier also said she had met the parents of the alleged first cloned human baby, named “Eve”, who is said to be living in Israel with her Jewish parents.
“She is doing perfectly fine. We cannot see any difference between her and any other baby born naturally,” she said, adding the same was true of the other four reported clone babies.
Clonaid, which is linked to the controversial Raelian sect, says it has successfully “implanted” five clone babies – living at secret locations in Israel, Holland, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United States – but no conclusive evidence of their existence has ever been presented.
Boisselier said Clonaid would provide the much-anticipated proof of the existence of another clone baby, born in Japan, at a conference to be held in Brazil next week.
“We will provide pictures and DNA sample proof of the little girl born in Japan,” she said.
The scientific community remains sceptical about the announcements, and some maintain that they are nothing more than an elaborate hoax.
Until now, those allegedly impregnated with a clone baby have not had to pay anything, but Clonaid was facing rising legal costs and was likely to start charging in June or July, Boisselier said, without citing the possible costs.
Asked about the dangers of cloning, following the death last month of Dolly the sheep, who was successfully cloned in 1997, Boisselier dismissed claims that the procedure was unsafe for humans.
“Dolly died because she was killed at the age of six just like any other sheep,” she said, saying most sheep were put down at the same age due to medical complications resulting from the ageing process.
“It’s not true that Dolly was ageing prematurely – she had six healthy offspring and lived the life of any other normal sheep.”
Dolly the sheep was put down last month after contracting lung disease.
Two years ago, the Israeli government outlawed human cloning after reports that an Italian doctor planned to clone babies near Tel Aviv because Israel allowed the practice.
Late last year, the highest Muslim authority in the Palestinian territories, the Fatwa Council, said human cloning was “absolutely banned” under Islamic law as it could cause deformities with serious consequences.
Clonaid was founded in February 1997 by Rael, who is the leader of the Raelian Movement, which sees cloning as a route to immortality.
The sect, which claims some 60,000 followers worldwide, believes life on Earth was established by extraterrestrials who arrived in flying saucers 25,000 years ago and produced the first humans through cloning as a result of their knowledge of DNA.