Round one to Dr Brigitte

Unlike in the last big race to put man on the Moon, private groups, and not governments, appear to be competing among each other to clone a human. Dr Brigitte, a member of the Raelian sect who believe that life on Earth was established by extra-terrestrials, has left the two other major contendors behind. Dr Severino Antinori and Dr Panayiotis Michael Zavos have eventually failed to grab the lead.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2003 09:49 IST

If putting man on the Moon, in the 20th century, was a battle of supremacy between governments, the birth of the first clone baby was clearly a battle of nerves (read money in the years to come) between private groups. The first to lay claim on the birth of the clone baby is Dr BrigitteBoisselier of Clonaid.

This French scientist is a member of the Raelian sect who believe that life on Earth was established by extra-terrestrials who arrived in flying saucers 25,000 years ago, and that humans themselves were created by cloning.

The others in the race are Dr Severino Antinori’s group RicercatoriAssociati per la Riproduzione Umana, an Italian firm engaged in its own cloning project and Dr Panayiotis Michael Zavos, Professor Emeritus of Reproductive Physiology-Andrology at the University of Kentucky. Many others have been in the fray too, but have chosen not to be named.

Given the nature of the project it seems unlikely that countries such as USA and UK have kept their hands off human cloning. This could be for a variety of reasons. First, it offers huge potential in the years to come. Second, Eastern giants China and Korea have yet to join the call for its ban.

Experts are of the opinion it is possible that the heavyweights (USA and UK) may even be encouraging private groups with indirect funding and loose legislations.

To drive home the point, New Delhi-based attorney G Natraj speaking of patents, which is a big draw for the private groups, said: “Huge commercial gains accrue from patents… but patents can only come from countries where human cloning and related technologies are allowed.”

This may answer why a ban is still not in place in the US and UK, even though they protested the loudest when in February 1997, Dolly, the cloned sheep's birth was announced, setting the stage for cloning humans.

Other merits of cloning also add to its attraction. For instance, it can enable childless couples and homosexuals to have children. It can also hold the cure for Cancer and Parkinson’s disease and many other genetic disorders.

Its greatest promise is, however, reversing the process of ageing in humans. Cloning can enable doctors to replace almost all organs of a diseased person without the fear of transplant rejection. This may also apply in the case of blood and skin disorders.

At the end of the day, mankind may even be looking at the enviable prospect of attaining eternal youth along with eternal life.

Though none of these points are lost on the various lobbies, most of the debates on the subject are still dominated by ethical and religious concerns.

Critics oppose the project on many counts:

They claim the technology used is imperfect to be tested on humans.

That it may end in violating the clones’ right to a dignified life, and that man will upset the order of nature and God by cloning humans!

It is to circumvent such opposition that researchers and research groups have chosen to lie low and governments have chosen to wait and watch the drift before permitting or banning research on human cloning, or joining in the race to create one.

First Published: Dec 28, 2002 13:47 IST