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Interviews With Brigitte Boisselier, Alta Charo

Aired January 4, 2003 - 17:01   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We begin tonight with allegations of a second human cloning, this one allegedly born in the Netherlands to a lesbian couple and it is the second part of a colossal -- or rather, is it the second part of a colossal hoax or an earnest statement of monumental event?
And, joining us now from Montreal is the head of the group Clonaid, Brigitte Boisselier, who is joining us now to kind of explain, if you could. This announcement apparently comes one week after you announced that the birth of the human clone was to have taken place, yet we have still not seen any evidence of that. And now, you're claiming that a second human baby has been born?

BRIGITTE BOISSELIER, CEO, CLONAID: Yes, the second was born yesterday night at 10:00 p.m. local time. I won't say where she was born but the parents are from Holland. I mean the two mothers, because it's a lesbian couple, and I talked to them just a few hours ago and they are very, very happy. Everything is going fine and the doctors who have been with the little baby said that everything is fine.

So, you know to me it's really, you imagine how thrilled I am now that there are two and they are perfectly healthy and probably the second one might be easier for the test than the first one because you said there is still no proof. But I've been expecting this proof because I'm the one that is the most concerned about it and I'm trying to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WHITFIELD: Well, let me interject, while you're explaining that you are thrilled, still there are a number of people who are rather skeptical of this second birth because there still is no hard core proof of the first birth. What has happened to the independent lab tests that were supposed to be conducted, and that was an announcement that you made when you announced the findings of this alleged first birth?

BOISSELIER: So those tests have been postponed. They are still possible and I hope they will happen. Actually, the parents are supposed to accept those because we had a contract between us but at the same time they're concerned.

WHITFIELD: Is it true that those parents backpedaled and now they no longer want an independent test conducted? What's the holdup?

BOISSELIER: Well, they said that they will tell me really how -- where they stand on Monday. But you have to understand that they're very afraid with what is going on with, you know, this lawsuit in Florida where people are trying to get the baby or to have a legal guardian. They just don't understand. So to them, they have a choice between getting public or having the chance to go public, because this independent expert if exposed to a judge will have to tell the location and how the parents look like (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WHITFIELD: Okay so now you're talking about, now you're talking about another case that has kind of arisen as a result of your claim of the first baby, Baby Eve, to be born and this is a Florida attorney who says that he is now appealing to a judge in Florida that guardian be appointed for this child for Baby Eve because there is some concern that that child might be exploited.

BOISSELIER: Well, how can a baby who was born, because the parents desired her and they are loving her, how can people think that they should take her from her parents? You know it's the whole concept of life and giving birth that has to be looked at. Why this baby should be different, treated differently than another baby that was born naturally or from natural reproduction, both I think desired. And, I would say even that Eve has been more desired than any other ones because a lot of children that are born are not even expected and they are coming to life just by chance. This is (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This one is loved, you know.

WHITFIELD: And let me ask you why should anyone believe that there is a Baby Eve and there's a baby number two if you haven't even presented a photograph, any sort of evidence to convince the very skeptical public, particularly the very skeptical mainstream science community?

BOISSELIER: Yes. Well, if you really talk to the mainstream scientists, they may be skeptical on television, but I'm pretty sure that they know that this is -- that I'm telling the truth because I've been saying that all along. I gave you many indications. I hope that we can have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of them because I still hope that they will get public and overcome the fear that they have and be as they were before the pregnancy, willing to go public and explain. Yes.

WHITFIELD: Well, at least one mainstream scientist that we spoke to, a bioethicist said on the air that she believes this is nothing more than a media circus because no concrete evidence has been presented. Instead, you make an announcement without backing it up with anything concrete for people to believe.

BOISSELIER: When we talk about scientists, I'm not talking about bioethicists. Bioethicists are here to represent the public opinion and they are not talking about science. Ask different doctors whether it's possible that I did it or not and they will tell you that I probably did it because there are thousands of scientists who are able to do it.

This is not a very complex science. We know how to produce embryos through IVF. We know how to test them, I mean we, the scientific community, so we just needed to adapt what was known about the cloning in mammals to the human cells. That's what we did and I'm telling you that it could be done in many places if this was allowed. I was the one who said we should do it and I did it and I was dedicated to that and my team was dedicated to that. That's the reason we were successful. But if you ask the scientists they will tell you that this is indeed not that complex.

And you know you should realize we are talking about a science that is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because what was behind the DNA re-expressing itself this way is major in biology and the understanding on cells. But you know it's such an advance in science but at the same time such a little thing because there are many other scientific discoveries that are done today that are more beautiful than what is gone on behind this you know.

WHITFIELD: Well, let me ask you this. A spokesperson for your group Clonaid has told one of our producers here at CNN that apparently there is a contract with all of the parents involved in your cloning experiments that they have agreed on paper that all of -- that lab tests will be conducted and that any baby born as a result of your project would undergo such DNA testing as a method of proving that it took place.


WHITFIELD: So if that is the case.

BOISSELIER: This is the case.

WHITFIELD: Then is this baby number two going to undergo testing and when will baby number one undergo this testing?

BOISSELIER: OK. Right now I will not give any date because the first time I did, I gave a date and it was (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WHITFIELD: Yes, initially you said it would be in a matter of a couple of days but now it's been over a week.

BOISSELIER: A couple of days and I really felt it would be that way but I didn't expect to have my facility in South Korea destroyed, to have the FDA knocking at my door, and to have a law judge trying to reach me in Florida. So, the parents are aware of that and we have been clear with them and they have the right to say well this is our life. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

WHITFIELD: So the answer to the question, the answer is what? When would those tests take place involving the second baby?

BOISSELIER: I wish I could give you a date but what I'm telling you is that I am the one pushing for those tests to happen and I'm telling you I'm pushing hard. But at the same time, I am a human being and a mother and I don't want these parents to be -- to have their lives completely destroyed by that so I'm careful.

WHITFIELD: So is it your feeling then the parents feel like their identities will be revealed if they comply with their contractual promise to have the testing done?

BOISSELIER: I think they will do it soon but, you know, we never know and I know that they're watching and they are thinking hard.

WHITFIELD: OK well there are some scientists who have said on the air in the newspapers and I'm sure you've read them, that your group and that you have no credibility. Do you feel like the longer you prolong presenting any proof your credibility is null and void? I mean you believe that you're a credible scientist but there are an awful lot of skeptics out there who say that you haven't presented any evidence for anyone to believe that this project is at all credible.

BOISSELIER: OK, well think about the life I had for the last four or five years. There have been scientists that told me that I was crazy to believe in the Raelian theory about the origin of life. My credibility has been destroyed for the last five years, so you know if it's destroyed for five more months or six more months it doesn't matter to me.

Actually I'm laughing because this baby is born. She was born on December 26. She's alive. She's perfect and healthy and the mother is also very healthy and (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So, whether the tests are going on today, in a month, or in ten years, they will still be valuable tests so the people who are telling bad things about me should remember that.

WHITFIELD: And you've heard a number of scientists have been here and doctors have been on CNN to say that what concerns them is that while initially the baby if born appears to be healthy that there could be some long term problems that could arise just as in the case of Dolly the sheep. Things arose much later in the process. What are you concerns about whether that indeed could be the case here?

BOISSELIER: Here again, you know when you're referring to Dolly the sheep, you know that Dolly the sheep is six years old now. The sheep that gave the cell to produce Dolly, you know the donor one she died at the age of three. So, a rational way to look at the evolution of Dolly would be to say that she doubled the lifespan of the original one.

It's not what is said all over. It said that she has arthritis and she's aging faster which is not true. She has doubled the lifespan of the other one. So, of course again you have discussed about human cloning. You have had the fear and now you have the doubts. I know that soon people will have to accept the fact that these babies are born, that they are OK, that they are citizens of their country and they deserve to be accepted as such and they're all happy families.

WHITFIELD: And neither of these babies that you claim -- neither of these babies that you claim were born in the U.S.?

BOISSELIER: The only thing I can say is that the parents of the first baby are U.S. citizens. The parents of the second one are from Holland.

WHITFIELD: But the first couple, the North American couple, they did not birth that child in the U.S. is that what you're saying? BOISSELIER: So anything that could be regarded as is labeled in the U.S. was done outside of the U.S. We were very careful in respecting that.

WHITFIELD: And Baby Eve you had announced the day after Christmas was born via C-section. What can you tell us about the birth yesterday of the second baby that you claim was born healthy?

BOISSELIER: Yes. She was born by natural ways and she was born at 10:00 p.m. local time. We were expecting that birth that day. It took about seven hours for her to come.


BOISSELIER: But no problems. It was a special thing though.

WHITFIELD: OK. We were talking about Dolly the sheep a moment ago and I just have a quote that I want to bring up from one of the lead personnel of the Roslin Institute which led the project with Dolly. Harry Griffin says: "Clonaid have made claims of two births, but of yet provided no evidence that either baby exists, no evidence from DNA tests and as yet, therefore, there is no reason to believe this is anything other than a long, drawn out publicity stunt." How do you respond to that?

BOISSELIER: Well, I already responded to that. You know they can say what they want.

WHITFIELD: But that comes directly now from a scientist, which you had said you didn't feel confident that any mainstream scientist had disputed your claims.

BOISSELIER: You know in front of camera I told you because they have to -- you know there is something that is organized around that to make us look like fools. I told you from the start that I would do it and I would announce it when it's done and I stick to my word, and you will have the tests done whether it's tomorrow or in a week or in a month.


BOISSELIER: They will be done and it will have everything, OK, so now people can be clearer on that.

WHITFIELD: All right, Brigitte Boisselier, we're about to run out of time. In think we're going to lose our satellite with you. So before you accidentally get cut off from that, I might as well just stop you right there but thank you very much for joining us from Sherbrooke, Quebec.

BOISSELIER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right, well meanwhile the leader of the Raelians group, the controversial group that founded Clonaid from which Ms. Boisselier is also the CEO says not even he has seen the evidence and he resents, however, being called a fraud. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAEL, RAELIAN MOVEMENT LEADER: I understand that the legal attorneys want to jump on this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to try to have a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the end of the world and, you know, it's good for a legal attorney to suddenly be famous thanks to what we do. But number two, I am not involved like I said before in the cloning company. I don't even know if there is a baby. I am like everybody else. I am waiting for proof.


WHITFIELD: So at this juncture what are we to believe? Bioethicist Alta Charo has strong doubts about the claims and she joins us from Madison, Wisconsin, and you've now heard from Ms. Boisselier right here on CNN. What are your thoughts? Are you feeling any more comfortable with the notion or her claim that a second baby has been born?

ALTA CHARO, BIOETHICIST: It's continuing to confirm my early suspicion this is just a publicity stunt as you claimed. If Brigitte Boisselier had genuinely wished to present the world with an announcement of the birth of a child conceived through cloning, the way to do it would have been: a) to have published the method in a reputable scientific journal that had been reviewed; and second, to have made the announcement along with the offering of proof at the same moment.

One doesn't simply make an unsupported assertion and claim that proof will come later and then persist in denying people the opportunity to test the claim. This is not science. It's not even good journalism or public relations.

WHITFIELD: Now, she says what is at issue here in terms of why the tests haven't taken place is the parents of these two children, allegedly clones of their mothers, that apparently they feel a little uneasy about carrying out the lab tests because they're afraid then their identities will be publicized.

CHARO: Why do I find it hard to be sympathetic to a claim that the publicity is problematic when Clonaid itself has gone out of its way to provide as much publicity as possible? I'm sorry but it simply doesn't ring true.

WHITFIELD: What, if any, concerns should a parent have if they were to have their baby undergo any of these tests? What are the risks involved?

CHARO: There are none. To do this test involves taking a small tissue sample. You could get it by doing a swab inside the mouth. It's not invasive. It's not painful. It's not risky. The test itself is one that's done entirely in a laboratory comparing the tissue from the alleged mother with the tissue of the alleged product of cloning and looking to see if forensic DNA analysis shows that the two tissue samples are genetically identical. This is not a matter of risk to the child. This is probably a matter of trying to find some way out of the publicity that they've painted themselves into.

WHITFIELD: I imagine you have continued concerns as Ms. Boisselier and her group Clonaid claim that there are at least three other human clones that are likely to be born if not this month then into the month of February, two of Asian couples, and then another of a Northern European couple. What are your concerns about this continued announcement and that they claim they have yet three other babies that are to be born?

CHARO: You know if I believed that they were actually doing human cloning, I would be concerned for the safety of any children that might be born. But instead, what I'm really concerned about is the political fallout of these shenanigans.

We've already seen editorials in "USA Today" and public statements by members of Congress indicating a rush to legislation yet again that is going to conflate the issue of reproductive cloning and the issue of research uses of cloning that do not involve reproduction, do not involve fetuses and do not involve making babies but can be the ticket to understanding the basis of genetic disease by letting us clone the tissue of a person who's got a known genetic mutation.

That kind of research, which at one stage for approximately one to three days involves having an embryo in your laboratory, is research that could be crucial to medical progress but could be caught up in the rush to ban reproductive cloning in part on the basis of these unsupported outlandish claims. My concern, therefore, is about politics and the effect on the U.S. Congress and on public opinion that drives the U.S. Congress, less than a concern about the safety of these purported procedures.

WHITFIELD: All right, Alta Charo thank you very much for joining us from Madison, Wisconsin, appreciate it.

CHARO: Thank you.


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