I don't believe that the Raelians have cloned a human baby. Call
me an incurable cynic if you will, but there it is. The Raelians, if you've
missed the news, are a sect who follow the former Claude Vorilhon, now Rael,
a French journalist and race car driver who claims to have been visited by
extraterrestrials in 1973. This "encounter" convinced Rael -- who dresses in
a white Star Warsy polyester costume any kid would love for Halloween --
that humans were created, cloned actually, by extraterrestrials who look
exactly like us. Well, we look exactly like them, because we are their
clones. These extraterrestrials (Rael gets offended if you use the term
"aliens") commanded Rael to go forth and clone humans.
Why? There is a nutty answer and a crass answer. The nutty
answer goes like this: Rael explains that eventually we will all clone
ourselves when we are very old, transfer the knowledge that is in our minds
to our baby clones and thus achieve "eternal life." Oh. And just how do you
perform this brain transfer? Rael does not say.
The crass answer to why this group of lunatics is claiming to
have cloned a baby girl is money. According to Brigitte Boisselier, the
industrial chemist and Raelian who claims to have supervised this and other
cloning experiments, the group hopes to establish a worldwide chain of
clinics that will clone human beings for a profit.
But even assuming that this cloning claim is a fraud, it does
prepare us for what others, presumably more capable of pulling it off, have
Again, the question is why. Advocates of reproductive cloning
cite infertility. But if the husband of the woman in question was infertile,
as the Raelians assert, there is donor insemination. And for any couple
desperate to have a child, there is always adoption. What reason -- other
than perverted vanity -- can impel a person to create an identical twin of
him or herself?
If the Raelian experiment it not a hoax, it is frightening. All
of the experiments with animal cloning are in the early stages, and the vast
majority of the successful clones (i.e. those who were born) have had
serious abnormalities or died early. Millions of years of evolution have
been required to perfect sexual reproduction, and there are still terrible
errors. We cannot imagine what consequences will flow from cloning.
The psychological complications of cloning can only be guessed
at. In the first place, anyone who would conceive and carry a clone of
herself is psychologically unfit for parenthood, since a good parent must
recognize and treasure the child's individuality and uniqueness. Yes,
parental narcissism is a part of love, but unless kept in check, it can
cripple a child. Normal human children struggle during adolescence with
finding their own identities. A clone would understandably feel destined to
repeat his or her parent's life. Even the simple matter of the clone's
parentage is complicated. Are his grandparents his true parents? His father?
If the clone is female, is the mother really the mother or just an older
Congress has been grappling with the issue of cloning for
several years and has been deadlocked over the distinction between
"therapeutic" and "reproductive" cloning. Across the political spectrum,
everyone seems to oppose what the Raelians are attempting. But the Democrats
and some Republicans favor cloning for medical research. This technology
would create cloned embryos in order to harvest their stem cells in hopes of
finding cures for diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes, but would not
transfer such a cloned embryo into a woman's womb. Senator Dianne Feinstein
(D-CA) was on television last week attempting to calm fears of therapeutic
cloning by urging that only "unfertilized embryos" would be used. Sen.
Feinstein needs to revisit basic biology. An embryo is a fertilized ovum.
The creation of embryos, cloned or not, for the sole purpose of using them
for medical research and thus destroying them crosses a moral line. As Leon
Kass, the director of the president's Council on Bioethics put it, "Suppose
scientists told us that the best stem cells come from 3-month-old fetuses
grown in the lab?"
That image makes us recoil -- and that revulsion should guide
us. Once sperm and egg meet, a unique individual, a member of the human
family, is present. If we start down the road of treating embryos as
commodities, we abandon the dignity and sanctity of life.