After a Raelity check, it's time to ban human cloning

January 06, 2003|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON - All in all it's probably not the best PR move for an atheist cult to dub its first offspring Eve. It might look as if they think they're God.

Besides, the biblical, or even the Darwinian Eve, was the mother of us all. The girl whose birth was trumpeted as the first-ever clone would be the daughter and identical twin of one of us.

Still, the Raelian believers and scientists get credit for their 15 minutes of fame and their half-hour on CNN. When Brigitte Boisselier, the Raelian bishop and midriff-baring CEO of Clon- aid, announced that the first clone was born by Caesarian section to a 31-year-old American, she had the stage to herself for at least half a news cycle before the skeptics weighed in.

Frankly, the company established by Raelian scientists to clone humans always struck me as a dubious enterprise. Clon- aid? It sounds like across between a rock 'n' roll fund-raiser and a nose spray.

Clonaid began life as a mailbox in the Caribbean and upgraded to a fly-infested lab in an abandoned high school in West Virginia. The scientific notes reportedly kept by a researcher didn't inspire confidence: "We went to the slaughterhouse and got some ovaries." Thankfully, this was when they were doing research on cows, not women, but you get the idea.

Ms. Boisselier's report that five of their 10 clones were successful strains credibility. It took 277 tries to get one Dolly.

As for Rael and the Raelians, where do we begin? Claude Vorilhon, aka Rael, the French-born race car driver, journalist and author of Let's Welcome Our Fathers From Space, met the 4-foot, dark-haired, olive-skinned aliens with almond-shaped eyes near a volcano in 1973.

There, he reports, they explained how our species was cloned from theirs (hold the green skin) and would clone ourselves into immortality. We would download our personalities and memories into our adult clones and, zap, eternal life. I can't wait.

Rael is a man of apparent good humor, which you need when you dress in white space clothes, believe that Steven Spielberg stole your story for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and wear your hair in a topknot. He remembers one of the aliens saying to him, "Aren't you sorry that you didn't bring your camera?" You betcha.

It would, however, take more than a camera for credibility this time. The only way I'll believe in Eve is if I'm personally standing there when they take the blood samples and do the DNA testing.

Nevertheless, this story got our attention because today's hoax is tomorrow's possibility.

Over the past decade, one offspring at a time, we've learned that we can fool Mother Nature. From a "test-tube baby" named Louise to a little lamb named Dolly, to half a dozen other cloned critters, we've gradually created the reproductive technology of cloning.

Now all we have to do is create hundreds, probably thousands of defective embryos and fetuses, dangerous pregnancies and genetically deformed children to get (maybe) a healthy clone. That's all, folks.

Today, along with the Raelians and their little Eve project, we have two other fertility doctors also claiming that they have pregnant women ready to give birth to clones. Sooner or later is getting sooner.

A spokesman for President Bush, who greeted Eve without the requisite politician's kiss, said soberly that it underscores the need for a ban on cloning. He didn't mention that our government deep-sixed just such a ban, rejecting an international agreement outlawing reproductive cloning to create humans, because it didn't also outlaw therapeutic cloning to cure diseases.

At home, a similar all-or-nothing opposition to cloning has created a congressional stalemate. Many legislators can't seem to distinguish between the promise of therapeutic cloning and the threat of reproductive cloning. Here's what we've learned from this "dress rehearsal." We need a sharp simple ban on cloning humans now. Leave the thornier questions of therapeutic cloning for another day.

The Raelians want us to welcome Eve into the family. I think we ought to raise Cain.

Ellen Goodman is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column appears Mondays and Thursdays in The Sun. She can be reached via e-mail at ellengoodman@globe.com.

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