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Human Clone Claim Stirs Controversy

The announcement last week that the first human clone had been born was met with skepticism, concern and outrage. Brigitte Boisselier, CEO of the private company Clonaid, which has ties to the Raelian sect, announced that a seven-pound baby girl known only as Eve was a clone of her 31-year-old American mother. Clonaid offered no scientific evidence to back its claim, but Boisselier said that results of genetic tests would be made available in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, scientists, politicians and other religious groups have condemned the news.

The leader of the Raelian Movement, former French journalist Claude Vorilhon, who now goes by the name Rael, alleges that a being from another planet visited him in 1973. Scientifically advanced aliens, Raelians believe, created life on earth. According to the sect's website, Rael was asked to set up an embassy on earth to facilitate the return of extraterrestrials to the planet. In 1997, he founded Clonaid with the mission of producing the world's first human clone. In addition to Eve, four more clones will be born in the next two months, Boisselier says.

Regardless of whether they are eventually substantiated, Clonaid's claims will most likely affect future U.S. cloning legislation. Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at the privately-held biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), says that without scientific data, he is extremely skeptical of the group's claim. ACT announced last November that they had cloned early-stage human embryos in a step toward therapeutic cloning (which seeks to treat diseases by using genetic material from a patient's own cells) but the company believes that reproductive cloning is too risky and unwarranted at this time. "If it turns out that they've¿successfully cloned a baby, and that's a big if, it's going to cause¿a huge public outcry and a backlash that¿could cripple an area of medical research that has the potential to eliminate a range of serious¿diseases," Lanza says. "There will be enormous pressure on the U.S. Congress to ban all forms of¿cloning.¿ But¿it will be tragic if this outrage spills over into the legitimate medical¿research that could cure millions of patients."

The White House issued a statement saying that President Bush finds human cloning deeply troubling and that he "strongly supports legislation banning all human cloning." The House of Representatives in 2001 passed a ban on human cloning that included both the reproductive and therapeutic forms but it later failed in the Senate

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