Human Cloning Takes a Hit, Thanks to Bizarre Cult Claim

Rob Oller | Contributing Writer | Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Human Cloning Takes a Hit, Thanks to Bizarre Cult Claim

Thanks to the unusual nature of the first organization to claim success in creating a human clone, the Christian community may have just gained a foothold against the slippery slope of the cloning issue.


Clonaid, the company that recently announced the successful cloning of three humans, may have hurt its own cause by affiliating with a religious sect that puts its faith in UFOs instead of God.


At least that's the hope of at least one Christian in the scientific community who is familiar with the issue.


"Once the shock of what has happened wears off, you are easily on a slippery slope to more (cloning) applications and attempts," said Fuz Rana, vice president of science apologetics for Reasons to Believe, a Christian organization in California that concentrates on issues of science and faith. "The one thing I am hoping is that maybe the Christian community can exploit the fact that Clonaid was involved in the first attempt at human cloning. The fact that it was a UFO group makes it much more repugnant than if it was done by pristine scientists in white lab coats."


In other words, if the public associates cloning with something from outer space, there's less likelihood it will gain worldwide support.

Evidence exists that the secular scientific world already thinks that human cloning has taken a big hit because of Clonaid.

"The scientific community is upset with what Clonaid has done, because it's caused such a negative reaction," Rana said.


What exactly has Clonaid done? No one is quite sure. The company, which affiliates itself with the Raelians religious sect, claimed earlier this month that it produced the first cloned baby, named Eve. But most scientists remain skeptical, if for no other reason than Clonaid head Brigitte Boisselier has failed to provide DNA proof that an unidentified American woman gave birth to a clone.


After a Florida lawyer filed a court motion for the state to take custody of the baby, Boisselier said the parents decided against the DNA testing. The parents have not been identified.


Rana, however, does not doubt that clones have been created.


"My gut feeling is they probably have done it," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if it was a hoax, but it wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't. It seems odd they would keep making claims if they haven't had some success."


Then again, Clonaid may be "creating" news to keep the coffers full, Rana said.


"The way Clonaid is looking at this, they claim they have 2,000 people waiting in the wings (wanting clones), and at $200,000 a pop that's $400 million in revenue."


Thomas Kaenzig, vice president of Clonaid, puts the number of people on the waiting list in the tens of thousands.


"After the birth of Eve, we have more than 10,000 e-mails (requesting cloning) that still need to be read," Kaenzig said.


The interested parties generally fall into five groups: 1. infertile couples; 2. homosexual couples; 3. people with AIDS; 4. people who have lost a child and want a near-duplicate clone; and 5. singles.


Clonaid embraces its connection with the Raelian sect, which claims its membership is 60,000 worldwide, a number most cult experts consider to be highly exaggerated. A more realistic membership figure is 20,000.


The Raelian movement began in 1973 when French journalist Claude Vorilhon (now known by his followers as Rael) claimed that an extraterrestrial named Yahweh met him in the mountains of France and explained that life on earth was created by the Elohim (extraterrestrials) from DNA through something called scientific creationism. In essence, the aliens created humans through cloning.


The Elohim told Vorilhon that they would allow humanity to progress by itself, but would maintain contact via prophets, including Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed. Vorilhon remains the channeler between the aliens and humans.


While Vorilhon has distanced himself somewhat from Clonaid and Boisselier, who is a Raelian bishop, he welcomes the free publicity.


"Thanks to what (Boisselier) is doing, the whole world knows about the Raelian movement," he said.


Kaenzig explained that the Raelians do not support Clonaid financially, but the movement supports the company spiritually and philosophically. "We would call Clonaid a (Raelian) spin-off," he added.


The Raelians are of less concern to Christian scientists than is Clonaid, and cloning in general.


"It should be scary to us," Rana said, adding that cloning presents not only huge physical but spiritual dangers.


"Looking at every animal that has been cloned, the clones are not healthy," Rana said.


Two basic types of cloning exist: reproductive, which Clonaid concentrates its efforts on; and therapeutic, which is of more interest to secular scientists. Reproductive cloning involves cloning humans from cells, while therapeutic is more concerned with growing and harvesting organs and regenerating replacement tissue.


"For me, as a Christian, therapeutic cloning is more problematic," Rana said. "At least in reproductive cloning the intent is to reproduce a human being, whereas in therapeutic you're developing embryos merely for the sake of destroying them and using for body parts."


Kaenzig disagreed, saying that different people have different definitions of what is ethical and what is not.


"Cloning is pro-life," he said. "It's funny to see people say that cloning is unethical; some of these people throw bombs all over the world. Is that ethical?"


Kaenzig considers it ridiculous when people say therapeutic cloning destroys life.


"It's a couple of cells. If you scratch your head you destroy some cells. You have to make a difference between human beings and a couple of cells," he said.


On the spiritual side, cloning is an affront to the idea of creation and life as described in the Bible, said Kenneth Samples, vice president of philosophy and theology apologetics at Reasons to Believe.


"One of the biggest concerns is you are creating a situation with cloning where you're taking advantage of human dignity," Samples said. "I think cloning presumes a naturalistic and purely physical viewpoint ... whereas from the Bible we know we are body and spirit."


Clonaid sees it differently.


"What is credibility?" Kaenzig said, adding that to some people believing in God is more outlandish than believing in extraterrestrial life. "I've never seen an almighty God, but many people have seen UFOs," he said.


Ultimately, references to UFOs and tales of Star Trek-style encounters only serve to prove the spiritual dangers of cloning, Samples said.


"Cloning doesn't take into consideration that we're not just bodies, we're people," he said.