RAEL’S CLONES A HOAX?
Sun Media reporter Brigitte McCann and photographer Chantal Poirier infiltrated the Raelians over a nine-month period and have put to paper the inside story of this bizarre sect.
Almost a year following the stunning announcement that they had engineered the birth of the world’s first cloned humans, Rael and Clonaid president Dr. Brigitte Boisselier have yet to prove the existence of these babies, even to their own members.
In fact, Raelians have made fun of the media that gave such extensive coverage to their cloning story.
“Come my beloved friends and journalists, and ask me if we did all that just to benefit from free publicity … YESSSS!” Rael cries and bursts out laughing during a Raelian gathering staged in Montreal.
Boisselier is also much amused as she recalls the press conference last Dec. 27.
“When I played games with the journalists … everything turned into a circus!” she says.
In December and January, the announcement garnered worldwide media attention and mobilized the scientific community as well as the American justice system.
Today, Claude Vorilhon, known to his followers as Rael, laughingly contends that the cloning controversy was perhaps a simple stroke of genius to make his movement known.
“Even if you want to think that we did all that only for publicity, it is wonderful. If that is the case, we are promotional geniuses!” he says.
“But if what we say we did is true, we are also scientific geniuses. In any case, we are geniuses! Wonderful! In any case, we win!”
In an interview earlier this year, he said media analysts estimated the media attention was worth nearly $500 million in free publicity.
During a Raelian gathering in February in Montreal, Rael himself declared he didn’t know whether or not the Clonaid babies were true clones.
“Brigitte (Boisselier) says it’s true and I have no reason to doubt her word,” he declared at the time.
Alain Bouchard, a sociologist specializing in religions, is not surprised to see Vorilhon distance himself from Clonaid.
“The more time passes, the more we are sure that cloning is just hogwash,” he says, adding: “A publicity stunt.”
“They really blew it with their cloning story, they looked like a weird bunch!” contends Dianne Casoni, a psychologist-criminologist specializing in cults.
As for Boisselier, she continues to perpetuate the word of Rael, her intellectual guide, and no longer disassociates science and religion.
“In a convention, they could say anything they wanted to; I was with my beloved prophet,” she stated during the annual awakening seminar in Maricourt.
“(Last December 27) was maybe the most important day of my life when (Rael) told me: You did what you had to do,” she says.
“Imagine had I failed … failed that for which I was created!”
Not one Raelian at the movement’s headquarters in Quebec’s Eastern Townships can certify the babies who made front-page news last December are true clones.
And none of the Raelian women from Quebec who volunteered to bear a clone have apparently fulfilled that mission.
Jocelyne, 37, was one of the surrogate mothers presented to the media with great pomp in 2001.
She knows all the volunteers in the group well and is adamant.
“There has been at least three babies, but we don’t know who the surrogate mothers are. “Anyway, they aren’t from here. And we don’t know where they are,” she confided to me in my guise as a Raelian.
In fact, the issue is taboo within the movement. I quickly understood how easily any questions on Clonaid can prompt instant suspicion.
“With everything that’s going on, I’m not going into any detail,” a Raelian man answers curtly.
“Most Raelians are not informed,” admits Benoit, 24, adding: “But those who have to know are informed.”
He believes they should avoid the subject to protect the babies from the American scientists who wish to take them away to study them.
“Proof can only be established in a few years time! All they have to do is to bring one of their cells in a laboratory and that’s it!” he says with conviction.
“The silence of the members is the prophet’s loophole,” offers Alain Bouchard, a sociologist specializing in religions.
“In December, the movement was not ready to deal with so much attention,” says Dave, a Raelian “guide” from B.C.
“The cloning scared many Raelians, given the considerable proportions of the media coverage.”
“In January, no one was ready,” says Ricky Roehr, national guide for the U.S.
“I answered a few hundred e-mails myself. When Brigitte (Boisselier) decides to make her next move, we must be ready.”
• • • • •
Following six months of investigation, our undercover journalist volunteers to bear the clone of a human baby and attends a confidential meeting at the home of Clonaid president Brigitte Boisselier.
– – –
Rael wants my eggs. He needs them to produce his own “Jesus miracle” by healing sick Raelians with the help of stem cells.
“The place is upside down!” apologizes Brigitte Boisselier as she leads me into her condo at the UFOland complex in Maricourt in July. Among the six Raelians present, four are among Rael’s famous angels.
I push aside a pair of shoes and two magazines to sit on the sofa with the others. What used to be the UFOland cafeteria, now a loft, is in fact a mess.
Fatigue is visible behind the broad smiles of the bleached blond with the plunging neckline.
Boisselier is familiar to millions as the president of Clonaid, a company founded by the Raelian movement. Last December, she declared her company had succeeded in cloning a human being, setting off worldwide controversy.
In a low voice, clearly nervous, the priestess of human cloning begins the confidential meeting by explaining her next mission. She wants to accomplish a miracle for Rael — she wants to use embryonic stem cells to heal an Italian Raelian who is paralysed from the waist down.
She compares it with great enthusiasm to the miracles of Jesus.
But first, she needs eggs. She is looking for volunteers who are ready to provide her with the eggs she plans to fertilize.
The embryos produced will, in turn, produce stem cells to be grafted on volunteers who are ill, in an attempt to heal them.
For the moment, no law bans the use of embryos in research. But this could change with the adoption of Bill C-13, possibly before Christmas, making such procedures illegal.
Boisselier insists on the simplicity of the procedure. For a few weeks, the production of our eggs will be stimulated by hormones, the same used to treat fertility problems. The eggs will then be extracted through natural channels, without incisions, before fertilization.
She claims that the side effects are minimal.
“But donors can develop an infection or experience a hemorrhage during the extraction of the egg, and thus jeopardize their fertility in the future,” cautions gynecologist Francois Bissonnette.
“The patients must be aware of all the possibilities, even if they do rarely occur,” insists the specialist from the OVO fertility clinic in Montreal.
Boisselier rapidly moves on to other issues. The women can only be examined by the movement’s physician, Marc Rivard. She explains that Dr. Rivard, recognized by the College des Medecins, will determine whether or not we are good candidates.
We will be housed, fed and transported free of charge for the two required appointments — the first for the hormone prescription session and the second for the operation. The extraction will take place at Clonaid’s famous secret laboratory — the same one where Boisselier claims to have “conceived” the first cloned babies.
Its location will be revealed to us only at the end of the procedure.
“I never go there myself,” says Boisselier, explaining she is afraid of being followed.
We are sworn to secrecy, we can’t even tell our spouses. It wouldn’t do if, for example, a spouse discovered our airline tickets and its destination.
She offers to pay us in cash. “The amount will be negotiated with Marc Rivard on an individual basis,” she says.
“There will be no traces, just a contract between us,” she assures in a confidential tone.
However, we must sign two documents. A confidentiality agreement is submitted to us in English, granting the famous blond predetermined damages of $1 million in the event of a breach of contract. The same document is submitted to Clonaid clients who wish to clone their cat!
Then, papers regarding the ethical aspects of the procedure will have to be signed, but Boisselier does not elaborate on their nature.
None of the women seems to be at all surprised at what she says. It seems their minds are already made up, and the volunteers limit their questions to basic technical issues. Nothing on the fundamentals. Difficult for me to push ahead without setting off alarm bells.
A Mexican Raelian woman asks if she can talk about this to non-Raelian friends who could be interested in the money. “Yes,” answers Boisselier, “but don’t tell them it’s for Clonaid. Tell them it’s just for an ordinary lab.”
TOLD TO ASK QUESTIONS
Coui, a 26-year-old Rael “angel”, asks if the fact that she has taken drugs may have affected her eggs.
“It could have affected the genetics of your eggs, but we won’t use that part,” Boisselier explains. “We simply take the egg, remove all genetic elements, and use the rest.”
“Discuss it! Ask questions!” she encourages. “I want you to feel totally at ease.”
“Take the time to think about it,” she continues. “Those who are interested can say so to Thomas (Keanzig, a Raelian and Boisselier’s right-hand man) before the afternoon is over.”
When the time comes to leave at the end of the afternoon, two of the girls announce they are willing to go ahead with the operation. So do I.
More than two months later, Clonaid has not yet followed up its request for eggs.
• • • • •
SECT PROMISES NEW ARMS FOR BOMB VICTIM
Clonaid president Dr. Brigitte Boisselier plans to use her so-called human cloning technique to “generate new arms” for Ali Abbas, a young Iraqi orphan mutilated by a bomb in Iraq.
This announcement, in a press release issued by the Raelians on Sept. 11, shocked and troubled representatives of Ali Abbas, who were alerted by Sun Media a few days ago.
They say neither Boisselier nor any other Raelian has ever contacted the young Iraqi or his representatives.
The organization that brought the 13-year-old boy to London for treatment calls it pure invention and a shameful attempt to cash in on Ali’s story.
“Ali will be saddened to see people who have never helped him use his name and his tragedy for promotional purposes,” said Diana Morgan, spokesman of the Limbless Association.
“Ali will soon receive his new artificial limbs,” she added. “Physically, he is doing well and his morale is good.”
The Iraqi teenager made front-page news throughout the world last April. He lost both of his arms when the Americans bombed Baghdad, and his parents and brother were killed.
Lying on a stretcher in a makeshift hospital, he touched many hearts when he declared that he wanted the doctors to give him a new pair of arms or he would commit suicide.
The teenager was transferred to Ku-wait, then to London, where he will receive artificial limbs valued at $30,000 each.
Another person unhappy with the Raelians’ statement is Dr. Catherine Tsilfidis of the University of Ottawa, an expert in the field of stem cells. Her study of newts, and their ability to regenerate limbs, has won her recognition.
The Raelians’ press release says that Dr. Boisselier and her team studied Dr. Tsilfidis’ research report with care.
“Impossible!” said Tsilfidis, astonished to see her name used.
“We have not yet published the results of our research. If Brigitte Boisselier implies that we co-operated with her, it is not true.”
Two other reputable scientists, Ellen Heber-Katz and Mark Keating, are also mentioned in the press release.
Heber-Katz discovered that mice suffering from lupus had the capacity to regenerate amputated tissue, but is far from explaining or controlling this phenomenon.
Contacted by Sun Media in Philadelphia, the scientist said that the Raelians’ claims are “totally ridiculous.”
“I have never spoken to these people. I have never had any dealings with them,” she said.
Biologist Mark Keating, based in Boston, is of the same opinion.
“It is highly probable that one day we will succeed in regenerating human limbs, but we’ve got a long way to go,” he said.
“The day we succeed, the technique will rest on science, and not on confabulations about extraterrestrials.”