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Vatican slams 'brutal' clone claim

Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II has been a strong critic of human cloning.

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Rael, leader of the religious movement connected to the company claiming it has produced the first human clone reacts to questions on the topic.
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Brigitte Boisselier, the scientific director of Clonaid, announced the first cloned baby has been born.
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THE RAELIAN MOVEMENT
Founded:  1973, France

Founder: Claude Vorilhon, who took the name Rael; his book is "The Final Message"

Basic tenet: The old Hebrew phrase "Elohim" -- usually translated as a name for God -- should have been interpreted as a reference to non-Earthlings "from the sky."  These entities are, Raelians say, responsible for the creation of life on Earth.

Membership: The organization says it comprises some 40,000 members worldwide, with highest concentrations in France, Canada and Japan. Outside researchers have suggested the membership may be smaller.

Source: The University of Virginia's New Religious Movements source
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- The claim that a cloned child has been born in an undisclosed country displays a "brutal mentality" lacking "ethical consideration," a Vatican spokesman has said.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls joined a rising chorus of condemnation on Saturday over the announcement by Clonaid, a company founded by followers of a religious sect, that claims extraterrestrials created human life by genetic engineering.

"The announcement without any element of proof has already raised the scepticism and the moral condemnation of the greater part of the international scientific community," Navarro-Valls said.

"The announcement itself is the expression of a brutal mentality that lacks any kind of human and ethical consideration."

The leader of the group -- the Raelian Movement -- has dismissed ethical concerns as "an accumulation of religious prejudices" and called the process a step toward immortality.

Former French journalist Claude Vorilhon, who calls himself Rael, claims to be a descendant of the extraterrestrials who created human life on Earth.

The announcement of the birth of a seven-pound girl named Eve -- allegedly the cloned child of a 31-year-old woman -- was met with doubt and concern, since other cloned mammals have had serious birth defects or developed health problems later.

But in an interview with CNN Rael dismissed the concerns.

"This is a beautiful day for humanity -- the creation of life," he said. "I don't understand ethical -- the word ethic is just an accumulation of religious prejudices."

He said he has "no doubt" that Eve "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 added.

Brigitte Boisselier, the chief executive officer of the Raelian-founded company and a Raelian bishop, said Eve was created using DNA from the mother's skin cells and is a genetic twin of her mother.

A group of independent scientists has been picked by freelance journalist and physicist Michael Guillen to check the group's claim. Results are expected in eight to nine days, he said.

"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.

To make a clone, scientists first take an egg and remove 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 the uterus of a woman, who carries the baby to term.

Rael said cloning a baby is "just the first step" in a process that will eventually lead to human immortality by transferring consciousness into cloned bodies.

"Your personality, your memory -- everything recalled in your brain -- you download it when you die in an adult cell, an adult clone of yourself, and then you can have eternal life through different bodies," he said.

Boisselier said four other cloned babies are expected to be born by February. The next is expected next week.

Friday's announcement prompted a wave of condemnation from scientists -- including one who leads a rival cloning project -- as well as religious organisations and the White House.

"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."

Claude Vorihon
Claude (Rael) Vorilhon: "A beautiful day for humanity."

Earlier attempts at cloning animals such as mice, pigs and sheep have led to a high rate of stillbirths or premature death, said Art Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist.

Caplan said he worries that "We're going to create a lot of dead and sick children."

In January, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommended a ban on human cloning in America, but only four states -- California, Michigan, Louisiana and Rhode Island -- ban any type of cloning research.

U.S. White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said President George W. Bush "believes like most Americans that human cloning is deeply concerning, and he strongly supports legislation banning human cloning."

The U.S.-based Christian Coalition has condemned the announcement, calling Eve "an aberration" and urging a human cloning ban.

Panos Zavos, a former professor at the University of Kentucky, also has announced plans to clone a human but has yet to successfully create an embryo.

And Italian embryologist Dr. Severino Antinori has said several times in recent months that a woman was carrying a human clone, due to be born in January.

Zavos has also discounted Clonaid's claim, calling the announcement "nothing but words."



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