South Florida

The day a cult that believes in space aliens announced a cloned human baby in Florida

A 10-foot rotating model of a human gene and what Raelians claim to be an exact replica of a flying saucer seen by their leader Rael, stand beside a hanging portrait of Jesus inside a room at UFO Land, Raelian headquarters, in Valcourt, Quebec. Clonaid, a company started by the Raelians recently claimed to have developed the first cloned baby called Eve.
A 10-foot rotating model of a human gene and what Raelians claim to be an exact replica of a flying saucer seen by their leader Rael, stand beside a hanging portrait of Jesus inside a room at UFO Land, Raelian headquarters, in Valcourt, Quebec. Clonaid, a company started by the Raelians recently claimed to have developed the first cloned baby called Eve.

Could it be?

Could it be that a cult that believes in space aliens had cloned a human baby?

The announcement was made 16 years ago at a Hollywood beach Holiday Inn.

Was it stuff of the Weekly World News?

Or was it real?

Let’s jog your memory ... or introduce you to this saga for the first time.

We’re going back to 2002, when the Raelians wanted to spread their news to the world.

Here is a look back at what happened and what it all meant.

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Brigitte Boisselier, a chemist and CEO of Clonaid, talks to reporters in Hollywood, Fla., Friday, Dec. 27, 2002, where she claimed that her company has produced the world’s first human clone, a baby girl. (AP Photo/Hillery Smith Garrison) HILLERY SMITH GARRISON AP


THE ANNOUNCEMENT

Published Dec. 27, 2002:

The entire human race could be in for a wake-up call today at a South Florida beachfront hotel. More likely, the call, if it comes, will be astoundingly weird.

Brigitte Boisselier, a scientist associated with a free-love cult in Quebec that believes in space aliens, said last week that she and colleagues would soon produce the world’s first human clone — a baby girl genetically identical to her 30-year-old American mother.

The group has promised an announcement today at the Holiday Inn on Hollywood beach.

The French news agency Agence France-Presse reported that Boisselier confirmed Thursday the birth of the baby girl by Caesarean section at an undisclosed location.

The delivery “went very well,” Boisselier reportedly said. A Holiday Inn employee said a “cloning conference” was scheduled at the hotel this morning but said there was very little information about it.

A spokeswoman for Boisselier and her company, Clonaid, refused to answer directly when asked Thursday if they will claim to have produced the world’s first cloned baby.

Last week in an interview with The Boston Globe, Boisselier said Clonaid had implanted a woman with a clone of herself and that baby would be born around Christmas.

Boisselier’s spokeswoman, Nadine Gary, said that Clonaid representatives intend to have video equipment at the announcement and would have an “independent inspector” take DNA evidence from baby and mother. If the baby was a clone of the mother, the two would be genetically identical.

Neither mother nor child will be at the news conference “for medical reasons,” Gary told The New York Times.

Cloning produces a new individual using only one person’s DNA. The process is technically difficult but conceptually simple. Scientists remove the genetic material from an unfertilized egg, then introduce new DNA from a cell of the animal to be cloned.

Under the proper conditions, the egg begins dividing into new cells according to the instructions in the introduced DNA. Many scientists have dismissed Clonaid’s effort to accomplish the feat.

The company was founded in the Bahamas in 1997 by Claude Vorilhon, a former French journalist and leader of a group called the Raelians. Vorilhon and his followers claim aliens visiting him in the 1970s revealed they had created all life on Earth through genetic engineering.

Last July, the South Korean government launched an investigation of BioFusion Tech, a local company associated with Clonaid, after it claimed to have impregnated a South Korean woman with a cloned human embryo.

At the time, a BioFusion spokesman told the British Broadcasting Co. that the woman was two months into her pregnancy. The woman reportedly fled Korea, but there has been no further word on her.

Boisselier, who claims two chemistry degrees and previously was marketing director for a chemical company in France, identifies herself as a Raelian “bishop” and said Clonaid retains philosophical but not economic links to the Raelians. She is not a specialist in reproductive medicine.

Human cloning for reproductive purposes is banned in several countries. There is no specific law against it in the United States, but the Food and Drug Administration contends it must approve any human experiments in this country.

Bush administration officials said in Washington on Thursday that they were aware of rumors of an announcement but had no plans to comment on the matter until after the details were known.

Boisselier’s comments last week came several weeks after Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori said he had engineered a cloned baby boy who would be born in January.

So far scientists have succeeded in cloning sheep, mice, cows, pigs, goats and cats. Last year, scientists in Massachusetts produced cloned human embryos with the intention of using them as a source of stem cells, but the cloned embryos never grew bigger than six cells.

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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. YESIKKA VIVANCOS AP File

ABOUT THE RAELIANS

Published Dec. 28, 2002:

They worship a four-foot, olive-skinned spaceman they believe will return to Earth only after they’ve established an embassy in Jerusalem, as he’s commanded their leader to do.

The Raelians, a religious sect that since 1973 has grown to 55,000 members worldwide, announced in Hollywood on Friday they had successfully cloned a human to create a baby girl they are calling Eve — born in some location on Earth they refused to disclose.

To say the Raelians believe in human cloning is an understatement. It is ingrained in their religion.

They believe that humans are clones of aliens known as Elohim. They believe that the space creatures chose a man named Claude Vorilhon as their leader.

Vorilhon, a one-time French journalist and auto racer, maintains he was twice abducted by the aliens, taken to their planet, and returned so that he may spread their message of truth. Vorilhon calls himself Rael.

Vorilhon, who lives in Quebec and describes himself as a prophet, claims his abductors told him they created all life on Earth through genetic engineering. He insists cloning could extend human life for hundreds of years.

During the 1970s and ‘80s, the Raelians kept a low profile, but that changed in the last decade, particularly since the group announced its efforts to clone humans.

As that drew more attention, the group toned down some of its other activities, which included the display of their religious symbol — a Star of David with a swastika in the center — and public cross burnings. The cross burning is part of worship, not an expression of hate, according to Raelian practice.

The group replaced the swastika in its logo with a galaxy symbol in hopes that would be less offensive to Jews, who have opposed the group’s effort to establish an embassy in Jerusalem.

While the group’s activities are not well known, they are well-funded, mainly because of the cloning effort.

In 1997, Clonaid formed, under the direction of Brigitte Boisselier, who announced Eve’s birth. In a 2001 interview in The Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, Boisselier said Clonaid has charged as much as $200,000 to people interested in having a human cloned.

Mark Hunt, a former West Virginia state legislator, contributed $500,000 to Clonaid after the death of his 10-month-old son, Andrew. He had the boy’s DNA preserved in hopes he could be cloned.

It’s unclear whether any of the unborn clones announced Friday by Boisselier are from Hunt’s DNA.

Boisselier, 44, was teaching at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., near Syracuse when she joined the group in 1993. She claims doctorates in analytical and physical chemistry from the University of Dijon in France, and the University of Texas, and had been a marketing director for a chemical company in France.

Last year, she went from a well-regarded chemistry professor to a pariah, reported the Times Union, as word spread about her secret attempts at cloning. She was forced to resign from Hamilton College.

Boisselier identifies herself as a Raelian bishop and says her company retains philosophical links to Rael but is economically independent. She said she’s trying to help people through cloning.

“I discovered this movement and decided it is the most rational approach to life,” she told the Times Union. “My religion is science. I believe science can help humanity, and I believe every advance in science can help humanity if used in good conscience.”

Despite the announcement in South Florida, the Raelians don’t have a large contingent here. There are roughly 25 Raelians in the area, said Donna Newman, 49, a member of the group who lives in Miami.

Newman, raised a Catholic, embraced Rael 17 years ago. She said the group’s religious symbol is not a sign of hate, but of “infinity in time and space.”

Newman, who wore the silver pendant around her neck, defended her religion. And she said Raelians do not believe in “aliens.”

“We believe in Elohim, the people who created all life on earth,” she said. “People have an image of what an alien is from television. That’s science fiction. We don’t call them ‘aliens,’ they are extra-terrestrials. They are human beings, with flesh and blood.”

She called Thursday’s cloning birth “a step in our growth as a civilization. Nobody wants to die. Everybody wants to stay young.”

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Brigitte Boisselier of Clonaid Miami Herald File

FACT OR FICTION?

Published Dec. 28, 2002:

The scientist who startled the world Friday by claiming the first birth of a human clone said the baby soon could be joined by dozens of other clones — including exact genetic duplicates of two children who died.

Brigitte Boisselier, linked to the enigmatic Raelian cult that believes humans descended from space aliens, said she and other scientists have created five babies who are clones.

She said the first - a healthy, seven-pound girl — was born at 11:55 a.m. Thursday to an unidentified 31-year-old American woman at an undisclosed location.

She offered no proof during an invitation-only press conference at a hotel on Hollywood beach, and independent scientists expressed profound skepticism. Boisselier, a chemist who runs a company called Clonaid, said her scientists were calling this first supposed human clone: “Eve.” The birth took place the day after Christmas.

The scientist quoted the grandmother: “She looks just like her mother.”

Four other cloned babies are due within weeks and 20 cloning procedures are planned next month, Boisselier claimed. Two of those four pregnancies were created with DNA harvested from children who died, she said.

She suggested that those two sets of parents wanted close copies of their dead children.

“It’s the choice of every parent to have the child they want, even if they don’t have a fertility problem,” she said. “Who are we to tell a parent they can’t have that?”

The press conference room at a Holiday Inn on South Ocean Drive in Hollywood was decorated with golden Christmas tinsel, and police officers maintained order as fiction moved closer to fact — though the bold claims still must be substantiated.

The mother and baby were not present and Boisselier provided no photos, medical records or other evidence. Instead, she said an independent television reporter had arranged for scientific testing of the baby and the mother. Results of those DNA tests should be available by the end of next week, she said.

Other scientists said such tests could produce preliminary results in less than a day. They reminded the public that extraordinary scientific claims require extraordinary evidence.

“A lot of claims, no proof,” said Rene Herrera, an associate professor of genetics and molecular biology at Florida International University. “I get very suspicious,” he said. “As a scientist, I need to keep an open mind. Basically, the bottom line is — do the test and see if the DNA is the same or not. This has to be done very, very kosher.”

DNA is the microscopic, double-helix ladder of chemicals that is unique to every individual. Cloning produces a new individual using only one person’s DNA. Though scientifically possible, human cloning remains on the frontier of medical science and ethics, and many experts said Clonaid’s claim could turn out to be a hoax.

Herrera offered to perform the DNA tests himself. He said the comparisons — virtually identical to those performed in forensic investigations — are “very simple, almost routine these days.” “I could have tentative results in a matter of hours,” Herrera said. “I can have definitive data for you in a couple of days.”

Art Caplan, director of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, also expressed doubts based on the immense difficulty of cloning a human, Boisselier’s credentials as a chemist rather than as an expert in reproductive technology, and the length of time she has reserved for testing.

“The normal thing to do would be to produce the baby,” Caplan said. “Beside that, take cells from baby and mom — saliva with a Q-tip — and have them match them right now. “It makes me think that they’re going to get sort of cutesy about how to test this, how to verify it.”

The claims made Friday also fueled debate among philosophers and theologians.

“If you want a biblical text to justify cloning, it’s right in the second chapter of Genesis,” said Rabbi Mitchell Chefitz of Temple Israel of Greater Miami. “Eve is clearly the clone of Adam.”

On the other hand, he said, rabbis have long cautioned against tinkering with God’s domain.

Boisselier also hinted that her team was working on methods to reverse aging.

“These things have not fully been argued,” Chefitz said. “What’s the purpose? What’s the point? If the point is to perpetuate self within space and time, then it’s distinctly immoral. There is no blessing that a person should live forever.”

Scientists say human clones would not be exact “stencil” copies of another individual. Though they would bear the same chromosomes and unmistakable physical resemblances, clones would develop their own personalities and live fully distinct lives. Still, many people found themselves troubled by Boisselier’s assertions.

Said the Rev. Jordi Rivero, director of the Archdiocese of Miami’s Respect Life Ministry and pastor of the Holy Family [Catholic] Church in North Miami: “The Nazis used science for a very evil purpose. This is the terrible scenario that we are getting close to again — scientists who want to use their knowledge to experiment with human beings, and this is unacceptable.”

Boisselier dismissed criticism of human cloning, saying “science should never be stopped.” She added: “No one has said to me, ‘I want to have 100 of myself cloned.’ “

Federal law does not specifically ban human cloning, but the Food and Drug Administration contends that it must approve any medical experiments that involve humans.

The FDA said it will launch in inquiry.

Clonaid, a for-profit company, was founded by Claude Vorilhon, a former French journalist who calls himself Rael and leads the Raelians. He and his followers assert that aliens created all life on Earth through genetic engineering — a belief that did not enhance Clonaid’s credibility.

“The claims they make about extra-terrestrials make it sound like they’re cloning Elvis, so I get very skeptical about it,” Herrera said.

Though details of the cloning procedures were scarce, Boisselier said DNA from “Eve’s” mother was taken from skin cells and implanted in an egg from the mother. The procedure was not performed in the United States, she said, and the birth did not occur in Florida. She said the announcement was made at the Hollywood hotel because her sect conducted another event there this week.

The birth came by Caesarean section, she said, because the woman had a previous daughter in that manner. The woman’s new mate is sterile, Boisselier said.

She said the woman had a normal pregnancy, gaining weight “as most mothers do.” “The parents are happy,” Boisselier said. “I hope that you remember them when you talk about this baby, not like a monster, like some results of something that is disgusting.”

Boisselier said her group made nine other attempts to clone humans. Five failed, she said, offering no details of when those failures occurred — during implantation or at some point during actual pregnancies. Four other attempts were successful, she said, and those babies should be born by early February.

One will be born in Europe next month to a lesbian couple, she said, two in Asia and one in North America.

Scientists have experimented with cloning since at least the 1950s, but the first major success came in 1997 when experts managed to create Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from cells of an adult animal. Since then, dozens of mice, cows, pigs, goats and rabbits — and at least one cat — have been cloned.

Though most scientists agree that human cloning is too dangerous to attempt with current technology — many things can go wrong, creating terrible complications — a few experts around the world have said they are working on it.

Clonaid planned a worldwide program of human cloning, Boisselier said.

“We intend to open clinics, at least one per continent, so we can help the parents who requested help, because the list is long,” she said.

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Freelance journalist and physicist Michael Guillen. RHONA WISE AFP

Michael Guillen, a former science news editor at ABC News, said he was selected by Clonaid to arrange and monitor tests to confirm or refute Boisselier’s claims.

Guillen has reported extensively on the cloning process. He also has a reputation for being sympathetic to scientists who operate on the fringe. He said he is not being paid by Clonaid, but plans to make a film about the cloning.

“I only want one thing,” he said, “to find out what the truth is. I worked under these conditions — no strings attached and I don’t do the testing. If [Boisselier] doesn’t give access as she promised, I’ll trumpet that.”

Guillen said he will assemble a team of “world class experts” to perform DNA tests on the mother and baby. Boisselier expressed complete confidence that her claims would be confirmed. “You can still go back to your office and treat me as a fraud,” she said. “You have one week to do that.”

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The 21st annual Coconut Grove King Mango Strut Parade with off with a bang as a group spoofing the Raelian sect. C.M. Guerrero Miami Herald File

IS CHILD A CLONE?

Published Jan. 8, 2003:

Nearly two weeks after a company announced the creation of the first human clone in a Hollywood hotel, the claim may never be verified because Clonaid said Tuesday it was not going to allow independent scientists to conduct DNA tests on the newborn.

The startling claim by the Las Vegas-based genetics firm began to unravel from the outset.

The company wouldn’t disclose the baby girl’s whereabouts, her real name or anything about her parents. Then Clonaid’s president raised doubts last week about any DNA testing, citing the parents’ fears of a Broward County lawsuit that could cost them custody of their child.

A few days later, a science journalist backed away from a commitment to head a team of independent experts to verify Clonaid’s claim.

“This whole thing needs to be regarded as a hoot until proven otherwise,” said Kenneth Goodman, director of the bioethics program at the University of Miami. “To the extent they want anyone to take them seriously, they need to hew to standards of the scientific community. That means openness and transparency.”

Clonaid claimed the breakthrough at a press conference at the Hollywood beach Holiday Inn Dec. 27, one day after the birth of baby “Eve” to a 31-year-old American woman outside the United States.

The scientific establishment ridiculed the company’s claim, partly because the firm is closely connected to a Quebec-based Raelian religious sect that believes aliens from outer space created human life through cloning.

Clonaid president Brigitte Boisselier had expressed complete confidence that her claims would be confirmed. Boisselier, a leading member of the Raelian sect, said in a prepared statement released Tuesday that the child’s parents have “postponed” the genetic tests indefinitely.

“They will allow the test to be performed only when they have the absolute guarantee that the baby will not be taken from them,” Boisselier said.

She referred to the lawsuit, which asks a state judge in Broward to allow Florida’s child-welfare agency to take temporary custody of the girl.

“I’m not advocating that a child be ripped from a mother’s arms,” said Coral Gables attorney Bernard Siegel, who filed the suit on his own. “On the contrary, I’m trying to show that this child faces grave medical risks.”

Since the birth of Eve, Clonaid has claimed a second cloned baby was born to a lesbian couple in The Netherlands and that three others are on the way.

Boisselier said she is “confident” genetic tests would be done on one of the five.

On Monday, Michael Guillen, a former ABC-TV science editor, changed his mind about leading a team of scientists to conduct DNA tests to verify the company’s claim.

He said Clonaid’s announcement could be “part of an elaborate hoax” to generate publicity of the Raelian movement.

Clonaid vice president Thomas Kaenzig is expected to talk Saturday about the first cloning case and then discuss investment opportunities at the Fort Lauderdale MoneyWorld 2003 Conference at the Broward County Convention Center.

Clonaid charges $200,000 for each human cloning.

But the company’s high profile role has caused repercussions: Morningstar Inc., the prominent Chicago-based investment research firm, canceled its scheduled demonstration on how to use the company’s website at the conference.

“We had no idea before [Thursday] who the keynote speaker would be,” Morningstar spokeswoman Margaret Kirch Cohen said. “It was part of the decision [to cancel], but not the only reason.”

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This file photo taken from the Clonaid website shows Rael, the spiritual leader of the international Raelian Movement and founder of Clonaid, the first company in the world to offer a human cloning service. A human baby was born 26 December 2002 through cloning, the first on record, French scientist and member of the Raelian cult Brigitte Boisseleir said. The baby girl was born by caesarian section and the birth “went very well”, Boisselier, president of the human cloning society Clonaid, said in a telephone interview with - AFP

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