Thursday, February 27, 2003
Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - The maverick scientists who helped thrust the subject of human cloning into the public eye and onto the legislative agenda continue to insist that they have pioneered the controversial technique.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to make all human cloning a crime after a debate spurred in part by Clonaid's claims to have overseen the successful birth of children who are genetic copies of donors whose DNA was used in the somatic cell nuclear transfer procedure.
In the absence of evidence, experts have written off Clonaid's claims as a fraud.
Undeterred, the company - a wing of the space alien-worshipping Raelian sect - maintained this week that it has now overseen a "first generation" of five healthy cloned babies born between Dec. 26 and Feb. 4.
Clonaid says these include "Eve," a girl born to U.S. parents; a girl whose parents are a Dutch lesbian couple and a boy born to Japanese parents who is the genetic twin of a child they lost in an earlier accident.
The last two, say the company, are a child - no gender given - born to Saudi parents on Jan. 27th and another child - no gender or nationality supplied - born on Feb. 4. It has provided no further details of these two.
"We don't want to provide further details at this stage on clone babies four and five," Clonaid Vice-President Thomas Kaenzig said in reply to queries.
"The way the world reacted about Eve's birth makes the parents want to remain as anonymous as possible."
After the Eve announcement late last year, a Florida lawyer sought a court ruling to have the alleged child put in state care if her health was in danger.
A Fort Lauderdale judge closed the inquiry in late January for lack of jurisdiction after Clonaid said the alleged baby clone was in Israel.
Clonaid later said Eve's parents feared losing the baby and had therefore changed their minds about having her undergo DNA tests to prove to the world that the cloning claim was true.
This failure to allow the tests merely confirmed the suspicions of skeptics that the entire episode was a hoax - a view bolstered when Raelian sect founder Claude Vorilhon, who uses the name His Holiness Rael, boasted in several media interviews about the public relations coup.
The sect, which says it believes human life was initiated on Earth by extra-terrestrials 25,000 years ago, claims to have had an injection of 5,000 new recruits as a result of the worldwide exposure it has enjoyed since December.
If the controversy has been nothing more than a fraudulent publicity drive, Clonaid is not about to say so.
On the contrary, Kaenzig maintains that the company is only waiting for public opinion and "the legal environment" to change before it will release more details.
If anything, however, the legal environment in the U.S. - where Kaenzig and Clonaid head Brigitte Boisselier work - is only changing for the worse, as far as would-be cloners are concerned.
Dozens of bills to ban or restrict human cloning have been introduced in state legislatures across the country since December, and the House of Representatives Thursday passed by a 241-155 vote legislation that will ban not just the cloning of live humans, but experimental cloning as well. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.
Asked about the status of tests to determine the authenticity of the cloning claims, Kaenzig said: "We will proceed with the DNA testing by an independent lab when one of the families feels ready for it."
He did not say what would happen if that condition was never met, but the implication was that evidence would in that case simply never be given.
The five couples are now reportedly forming an association to represent themselves and others who join their elite circle around the world.
The association, according to Kaenzig, will "help them to fight backward-oriented governments trying to ban reproductive human cloning" and trying to take away their babies.
The couples have received "hundreds" of letters of support sent by email to Clonaid, he said.
"Almost all of them are entirely positive, and people support the parents in remaining anonymous and congratulate them on their courage. There are a few negative letters as well, but there are always conservative fanatics who try to fight progress."
The company, meanwhile, is pressing on. Work has begun on a "second generation" of clones, Kaenzig said, involving 20 patients.
And from his headquarters in Quebec, Vorilhon has given Clonaid instructions to begin a new project, the development of an "artificial womb" that will provide a home - with all the necessary nutrition and stimulants - for a baby from conception to birth.
"This artificial womb will allow parents who wish to have a child through cloning to no longer worry about the need to have a surrogate mother," the company said.
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