Clone news

Posted: Dec 31, 2002 12:00 AM
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 planned. 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 twin? 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.