Published December 29, 2002
VATICAN CITY – Leaders from three major world religions united in denouncing the alleged cloning of a human baby.
The Vatican joined leading Muslim clerics and Jewish rabbis this weekend in calling human cloning immoral, "brutal" and unnatural.
"The announcement in itself is an expression of a brutal mentality, devoid of any ethical and human consideration," said the statement from papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.
The vehement outrage by the world religious communities came in response to Friday's announcement by a company called Clonaid that the first cloned human baby had been born. The company's chief executive, Brigitte Boisselier, offered no scientific evidence but said "Eve" was a healthy, genetic duplicate of her mother.
But since there was no proof, the announcement was met with extreme doubt by the scientific community and revulsion by ethicists, who have voiced alarm about the implications of duplicating humans, saying it would compromise freedom and individuality.
Amidst the furor, Boisselier defended both her credibility and the project Sunday on Fox News Channel.
"We had three different experiments that prove this baby has same DNA as mother," said Boisselier of "Eve." "The people involved knew what they were doing."
Boisselier said that the scientists who performed the cloning practiced on 3,000 cow embryos and 300 human ones before the actual one was produced - and she insisted that the human embryos used were frozen, not discarded.
She said she hasn't produced evidence because she was waiting for test results from an independent expert.
"If I presented that, people would still have the same doubts," she said. "The only (acceptable) proof is independent expert tests."
Boisselier, a 46-year-old chemist with two doctoral degrees but no background in cloning, made the announcement of a cloned baby girl Friday at a press conference in Hollywood, Fla.
Clonaid was launched by a former French journalist who now calls himself Rael and founded the Raelian movement, which believes human life was formed by extraterrestrials through genetic engineering.
The Raelian sect describes its "scientific creation" theology as an alternative to both Darwinian evolution and the creation dogma of some religions. Boisselier is a self-professed Raelian.
The Vatican has condemned any cloning of human embryos, saying the destruction of extra embryos in the process can in no way justify the procedure. Vatican teaching holds that life begins at conception.
A Vatican statement Saturday noted the to-date lack of scientific proof and said it "has already given rise to the skepticism and moral condemnation of a great part of the international scientific community."
Pope John Paul II himself has criticized any scientific experiment that threatens the dignity of a human life, including using human embryos for stem cell research.
In the Muslim world, clerics said cloning humans disrupted natural law and would create a "chaotic" future for humanity.
"Science must be regulated by firm laws to preserve humanity and its dignity," said Ali Abu el-Hassan, a cleric from Egypt's al-Azhar University, the top religious institution in the Muslim Sunni world.
Separately, a senior Saudi cleric, Ayed bin Ahmad al-Qurani, drew a distinction between human cloning and cloning of plants or animals, which he said could serve humanity.
Human cloning is wrong "because it will cause an imbalance in the human nature God has created," and it would lead to the spread of unknown diseases, he said. In addition, it could replace marriage for the sake of reproduction through one gender without the need for the other, which is "sinful, sinful, sinful," he said.
In Jerusalem, Israel's Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau said that in principle, Judaism favors technological developments and medical progress that can help save a life or solve infertility problems, but rejects the artificial creation of life.
"The moment medical science tries to take upon itself duties and areas which are not its responsibility such as shortening life, cloning, or creating life in an unnatural way we must set down borders in order not to harm the basic belief that there is a creator of the universe in whose hands life and death are placed," a statement from Lau's office said.
Political leaders, meanwhile, stepped up calls for a global ban on human cloning following Friday's announcement.
Several countries have already banned human cloning, including Germany and Britain. Others have legislation pending that would ban it or restrict it, such as Sweden, where the government is drafting legislation that would ban reproductive cloning but allow "therapeutic" cloning.
The United States has no specific law against human cloning. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates human experiments, says its regulations forbid human cloning without prior agency permission, and it has launched an investigation into whether Clonaid illegally performed any of the work on U.S. soil.
The United States has proposed a U.N. treaty banning all human cloning. France and Germany have proposed an alternative which would ban only cloning to produce babies, leaving the question of cloning for research and medical experiments for future consideration.
On Friday, French President Jacques Chirac vigorously condemned the announced birth and repeated calls for a worldwide ban on attempts to clone humans, which he said was "contrary to the dignity of man."
At the United Nations, a spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the organization was waiting for scientific proof. "In any case, no one should expect the secretary-general to send flowers," the spokesman said.
Boisselier, for her part, brushed aside ethical concerns over cloning and criticisms about the dubious health and well-being of a cloned human child, saying the baby was healthy and was born to loving parents who really wanted a child.
"Eve is doing real fine. The parents are very happy," she said. "I'd like you to think about parents who have been expecting babies for a long time. I know that Eve will not suffer – she will be loved for the rest of her life."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.