WASHINGTON (BP)–Maverick scientists involved in the race to be first to clone a human being shrugged off opposition from the South Korean government, saying there was no legal impediment to their work in the country.
BioFusion Tech, the Korean branch of the U.S.-based group, Clonaid, claimed this week that it has helped a woman become pregnant with a cloned baby, according to CNS News.
BioFusion-Clonaid spokesman Kwak Gi-Hwa said in an interview Friday the “surrogate mother” was a 26-year-old, unmarried Korean.
The cloned embryo had been implanted into her womb outside South Korea, he said, but he refused to say in which country — or even which continent — the procedure had taken place.
Kwak said the baby was due to be born in about six months’ time. This could occur either in Korea, he said, “or in Japan or the U.S. or Britain or Canada or Israel.”
The woman was one of a small group chosen from a pool of 50 volunteers, he said. They had been selected on grounds of health and mental attitude.
After BioFusion-Clonaid made its announcement this week, the Korean’s health and welfare ministry said it would be investigating the claim.
Although human cloning is not yet illegal in Korea, a ministry spokesman said it was nonetheless unethical. The ministry was investigating whether any existing laws had been broken, he said.
Kwak said he was unconcerned about the ministry’s stance as the group had broken no Korean law. No government official had yet visited, he said, although he had received a phone call.
Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo daily in an editorial urged lawmakers quickly to legislate to outlaw cloning, which it said went “against the universal belief in the respect for life.”
“Even if one is skeptical of this particular announcement, it is still a wake-up call to put into law a set of cell-cloning guidelines” drawn up by government ministries, it said.
Legislation outlawing human cloning has been drafted but has some way to go before passage.
Earlier this month, Clonaid representative Thomas Kaenzig was quoted as saying in Tokyo the group felt Asian societies were “more open to new technologies” while “conservative Christian groups” and others in the West were strongly opposed.
Clonaid head Dr. Brigitte Boisselier is one of three controversial scientists who last year announced their intention to pioneer human cloning. The other two are Kentucky-based Dr. Panos Zavos and an Italian infertility specialist, Dr. Severino Antinori.
Antinori recently told European media organizations he was overseeing three clone pregnancies. One had successfully passed its first trimester, and that the baby would be born in December, he said.
Zavos, too, claims to have selected six couples to produce cloned babies in an unnamed developing country.
No proof of any of the claims has been produced.
The idea of cloning a human being is anathema to many — pro-lifers, ethicists, environmentalists, medical experts and adherents of most religious groups.
The major concerns relate to the risks involved — animal cloners have reported a high failure rate and potential birth defects — as well as to the ethical questions of experimenting with human embryos and trying to create “copies” of unique human beings.
The would-be cloners argue that the technology, once mastered, offers the promise of genetic offspring to infertile couples, single people and homosexuals.
All efforts to bring a cloned baby into the world are highly controversial, but Clonaid’s campaign is arguably more so because the group is attached to an extraterrestrial-worshipping religious cult founded by a former French journalist, Claude Vorilhon, who calls himself Rael.
Kwak confirmed Friday that he was himself a Raelian, and believed Rael’s teaching that cloning offered humankind eternal life.
“We can see every day in the newspapers bad news … wars everywhere. Cloning technology can save all life and all human beings can live forever by this technology,” Kwak said.
Asked to elaborate, he said the Raelians hoped in the future to be able to transfer a copy of a person’s “memories, knowledge and personality” onto his or her clone.
He conceded that such technology was not available, but said researchers in the U.S. and Japan were working on it.
To the argument that a cloned person would have a soul of his or her own — thus calling into question the idea that cloning yourself would be a way of achieving “eternal life” — Kwak replied that Raelians did not believe humans had “souls and spirits.”
Kwak said it was not necessary for the cloning volunteers to join the Raelians. The pregnant Korean woman was not a member, he added.
The Raelians claim to have 55,000 followers in 84 countries. Their leader teaches that life on earth was created by an extraterrestrial race called “Elohim” which was mistranslated in the Bible as God. (Elohim is Hebrew for God.)
Rael also teaches that Jesus was resurrected through a cloning technique. The group’s website says Rael is available for public speeches about cloning, for a fee of $100,000.
Goodenough is the Pacific Rim bureau chief with www.CNSNews.com. Used by permission.