Raelian leader: Cloning first step to immortality
'What if the child is perfectly healthy and beautiful?'
MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The leader of a religious sect that claimed to have created the first human clone Friday called the development "just the first step" toward human immortality through cloning.
Former French journalist Claude Vorilhon, who now calls himself Rael, claims to be a direct descendant of extraterrestrials who created human life on Earth through genetic engineering. A company founded by his followers announced Friday that the first human clone has been born -- a 7-pound baby girl dubbed "Eve."
The announcement was met with skepticism and concern, since other cloned mammals have had serious birth defects or developed health problems later. But in an interview with CNN, Rael dismissed concerns about health problems in cloned animals, saying "I have no doubt the child will be perfectly healthy."
"Everybody in the world now is crazy about what if the child has a problem. What if? I say, what if the child is perfectly healthy and beautiful? I think opponents to cloning are more afraid of that than of the faults," he said.
Brigitte Boisselier, the chief executive officer of the Raelian-founded company Clonaid, said Eve was created using DNA from the mother's skin cells and is a genetic twin of her mother, a 31-year-old American citizen.
"The best proof that we can have is probably the grandmother, who said she looked just like the mother," Boisselier announced Friday at a news conference in Florida.
Group aims for adult clones
The Raelians eventually hope to develop adult clones into which humans could transfer their brains, Rael said.
"Cloning a baby is just the first step. For me, it's not so important," he said. "It's a good step, but my ultimate goal is to give humanity eternal life through cloning."
Boisselier said the cloned child was born Thursday in an undisclosed country. A group of independent scientists has been chosen by freelance journalist and physicist Dr. Michael Guillen to verify that Eve is the first human clone.
"I have accepted on two conditions: that the invitation be given with no strings attached whatsoever and that the tests be conducted by a group of independent world-class experts," Guillen said.
Results are expected in eight to nine days, Boisselier said.
Wave of condemnation
Friday's announcement prompted a wave of condemnation from scientists -- including one who leads a rival cloning project -- as well as religious organizations and the White House. (Vatican slams 'brutal' clone claim)
"Without any scientific data, one has to be very, very skeptical," said Dr. Robert Lanza, the head of medical and scientific development for the private genetic research firm Advanced Cell Technologies.
"This is a group again that has no scientific track record, never published a single scientific paper in this area," Lanza said.
"They have no research experience in this area. In fact, they have never even cloned a mouse or a rabbit."
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said President Bush "believes like most Americans that human cloning is deeply concerning, and he strongly supports legislation banning human cloning."
In January, the National Academy of Sciences recommend a ban on human cloning, but only four states -- California, Michigan, Louisiana and Rhode Island -- ban any type of cloning research.
The Food and Drug Administration claims it has jurisdiction over human cloning based on the Public Health Service and Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. It claims it would regulate the cloning process like a drug.
University of Wisconsin bioethicist Alta Charo called the announcement "an irresponsible example of medical grandstanding."
'An irresponsible experiment'
"I'm not persuaded that it has occurred," she said. "If it has occurred it is an irresponsible experiment on human beings before you have proof on other animals to determine if it is safe, and the first and most important principle of medical ethics is that you do not do harm."
Dr. Panos Zavos, the leader of another effort to clone humans, said Boisselier failed to provide any evidence of her claim.
"No events, no evidence, no signs of anything of that sort as far as delivery of a baby -- it's nothing but words," he said.
Zavos, a former University of Kentucky professor, also has announced plans to clone a human but has yet to successfully create an embryo. And Italian doctor Severino Antinori has said several times in recent months that a woman was carrying a human clone, which would be born in January.
"I think, frankly, that we are dealing with a group here that was trying to beat the competition," University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Glenn McGee said. "There is a pretty good-sized group of not-so-credible scientists trying to make Mini-Me, and one said he would make a clone my mid-January. Clonaid had one last shot, and they tried to take it."
The Christian Coalition condemned the announcement in a press release Friday, saying it, too, will push for a law banning human cloning.
Christian Coalition: 'an aberration'
"The cloning of human embryos for the purpose of performing destructive research and experimentation, such as that which just occurred today of 'Baby Eve,' is an aberration. It shows a total lack of respect for life and must be prevented," said Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America.
To make a clone, scientists first take an egg and remove all of its genetic material. Then the nucleus of a cell -- any cell in the body -- is taken from the individual to be cloned and inserted into the hollowed-out egg.
The cell is then given a jolt of electricity or put in a chemical bath to activate cell division -- essentially tricking the cell into doing what a fertilized egg would normally do. Then the embryo is implanted into a woman's uterus who carries the baby to term.
Boisselier said Eve was the result of one of 10 implantations done by Clonaid: Five babies were spontaneously terminated during the first few weeks of pregnancy, she said.
"It's very important to remember we are talking about a baby," she said. "She is not a monster or some result of something that is disgusting. She is a very healthy baby with very happy parents."
Boisselier said the next clone is expected to be born next week in northern Europe, and three other cloned human babies should be born by early February.