Clonaid chief backpedals on proof of clone birth

Brigitte Boisselier, left, chief executive of Clonaid, and Claude Vorilhon, founder of the Raelian movement are seen in this Dec. 27, 2002 file photo. On Saturday Jan. 4, 2003, Clonaid announced that a second cloned baby has been born to a Dutch lesbian couple. Neither baby has been confirmed to be a clone by genetic testing, and mainstream scientists are skeptical of the company's claims.

(AP Photo/Yesikka Vivancos, File)
Published: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 5, 2003 at 1:03 a.m.
Brigitte Boisselier, your clock is ticking.
Not a biological clock. Although she is 46, looming infertility does not worry the chief executive of Clonaid.
Boisselier, who also is a bishop of the Raelian religious sect, believes that human cloning is the key to everlasting life and future generations should be sired by combining science with faith in a superior alien culture that visits Earth from outer space.
No, the clock that Boisselier probably hears ticktocking now is the one that may soon chime when her proverbial 15 minutes of fame have expired.
For more than a week, the Ph.D. chemist with the stylish outfits and mane of red-and-white-streaked hair has teased the world with claims that her team of experts has made the first clone of a human being - a baby girl named Eve.
Her chain of continent-hopping news conferences and television appearances marks a type of fame and hype typically reserved for pop stars, not scientists. It's a status for which she has been preparing for the past decade.
"It's my day," she crowed from the podium in Hollywood, Fla. "We are the most rational of all."
But by week's end, Boisselier found herself backpedaling from her promise to produce the necessary DNA confirmation that Eve was cloned from her mother's skin cells. Clonaid officials and Rael, founder of the fringe religious movement, cite privacy concerns for the baby and her parents.
On Saturday, Clonaid announced that a second cloned baby has been born to a Dutch lesbian couple. Clonaid spokeswoman Nadine Gary said in a telephone interview the child was born Friday night, but declined to say where.
Mainstream scientists and the media are beating a hasty retreat from what already was widely considered to be a dubious enterprise, even without the extraterrestrial aura.
"If they aren't going to allow a genetic test, it changes things completely," said science watchdog columnist Robert Park of the American Physical Society in College Park, Md. "It's still not entirely clear what their game was, but it seems to be closing down now."
Boisselier has not responded to repeated requests by The Associated Press for an interview.
She shrugs off the burden of genetic proof, suggesting that the media's skepticism that it's all a publicity stunt is unfounded. Rude, even.
"You don't like it, that's your problem," Boisselier said on CNN's "Crossfire" program. "I have been very badly mistreated."
One thing that is not alien to Boisselier is controversy.
According to published reports, she was raised as Catholic on a farm in the Champagne region east of Paris. She holds doctorates in analytical and physical chemistry from the University of Dijon in France and the University of Houston.
The mother of three children, she and her husband split about a decade ago and she soon embraced the Raelian movement. A French judge awarded the father custody of their youngest daughter, Iphijenie, now 13. Little is known about the middle child, a son.
Her eldest daughter, Marina Cocolios, 24, also belongs to the Raelian movement and studies art in Montreal near Rael's headquarters and theme park, UFOland.
Cocolios is one of 55 women in the movement who are said to be ready to act as surrogate mothers for clones.
Using knowledge supplied by space aliens, Rael says plans are eventually to perpetuate individuals by creating adult clones and downloading memories and personality into the new, identical bodies.
"We have a technical term for groups like Clonaid," says University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan. "We call them wacky."
Others suggest there is some marketing genius in the Clonaid method, if not a sincere interest in cloning.
"There is a pent-up demand from people who want to clone their dead children," said Gregory Stock, director of the UCLA Program on Medicine, Technology and Society.
Stock said Boisselier asked him nearly a year ago to oversee the genetic validity testing of the first clone, but "she never got back to me."
He doubts this first baby is a clone. "You can have proof in a day; they don't need a week," he said.
But if the baby announcement in Florida and subsequent announcements of other babies keeps Clonaid in the headlines, it might raise millions of dollars from desperate couples, he said.
"Then they'll set up a real laboratory and really try to pull it off," he suggested.
Boisselier worked for 13 years as a research chemist at Air Liquide, a firm in the Paris suburb of Loges-en-Josas. In its primary business, Air Liquide separates and condenses nitrogen, carbon dioxide and other gases for industrial, medical and agricultural uses.
She was dismissed in 1997 after her views on cloning were published in the Paris daily, Le Monde.
Air Liquide spokeswoman Joelle Ambon said Boisselier was fired because "she could not hold two jobs at the same time." In December 1999, a Paris appeals court ordered the company to pay her about $30,000 for religious discrimination. By then, she already had moved to North America.
In 2000, she signed a three-year deal as a visiting associate chemistry professor at Hamilton College in upstate New York. She resigned the next year after her religious views and Clonaid work were disclosed in the New York Times Magazine.
Boisselier said cloning would resurrect the infant son of a Charleston, W.Va., attorney and former state legislator Mark Hunt. The 10-month-old died in 1999 of complications following heart surgery.
"He deserves to live again," Boisselier said of the boy. "And through cloning, there is a way for this genetic code to express itself so he can laugh and play and become whoever he was meant to become."
Hunt and his wife spent between $200,000 and $500,000 to set up a cloning lab in a former classroom in nearby Nitro. Within months, the lab was shuttered under government pressure and, according to published reports, a federal grand jury in Syracuse, N.Y., began investigating Boisselier for fraud.
Boisselier later said the West Virginia lab was a ruse and the real cloning was being done overseas. (South Korea is investigating possible Clonaid labs there.) Hunt severed ties with Clonaid, calling Boisselier a "press hog."
Wearing her silver Raelian medallion, Boisselier made headlines in March when she appeared with Rael before a congressional panel and pooh-poohed concerns that human cloning could yield the same kind of deformed offspring and other genetic abnormalities seen in animal cloning experiments.
Rael and others started Clonaid in the Bahamas in 1997 after Scottish scientists cloned Dolly the sheep. Its officials have declined to disclose where its offices are located.
On its Web site, Clonaid - its headquarters location undisclosed - advertises human cloning services for $200,000 and egg services for infertile women beginning at $5,000. It sells a "cell fusion device" called the RMX2010 for up to $9,220.
"Twenty-four years ago, when the test-tube baby was born, it was 'monstrous' against nature. Today, hundreds of thousands of babies are living and happy," Boisselier said on French 2 television. "It's going to be the same thing with cloning."
But other scientists say in vitro fertilization was legalized only after years of successful peer-reviewed research and safety trials using laboratory animals.
If anything, they say Clonaid has focused public discussion on the hazards and may complicate efforts to expand the cloning of stem cells and tissues for medical use.
"This probably pushes human cloning back a ways," Park said. "I don't think we're ready to clone humans."

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