S Korea probes human clone claim

BBC News/July 24, 2002

The South Korean Government has started an investigation into a company which claims to have made a woman pregnant with a cloned human embryo. A Health and Welfare ministry spokesman said investigators had been sent to the laboratory of BioFusion Tech, based in the southern city of Daegu.

A BioFusion spokesman, Kwak Gi-Hwa, told the BBC that the woman was two months into her pregnancy.

But he said the company was not concerned by the investigation, because at present South Korean law does not ban human cloning and the procedure took place abroad.

BioFusion is an affiliate of the US-based company Clonaid, founded by a religious cult, the Raelian Movement, which believes life on Earth was created by extra-terrestrials.

Race to be first

In March last year, Clonaid director Brigitte Boisellier was one of three doctors who announced their intention of cloning a human within a year.

A few months ago one of them - Italian embryologist Severino Antinori - said a client of his was pregnant with an embryo clone.

At present Korean law does not prohibit human cloning - a draft bill has yet to receive approval by parliament.

But the government wants to know if any other laws have been breached.

Health officials have warned that the company will be prosecuted if anyone without medical licences was found to have been involved with the procedure.

No jurisdiction

Also, the Health and Welfare Ministry has said that even under the current laws, any immoral medical practice could result in criminal charges.

But Mr Kwak said that the company is not liable because these procedures had taken place outside Korea and therefore local law did not apply.

Mr Kwak told the BBC that the South Korean woman's pregnancy was progressing satisfactorily.

The BBC's Kevin Kim in Seoul says this is not the first time South Korea has made headlines in human cloning.

Infertility hope

Just a few years ago, a Korean doctor shocked the world when he claimed that he had created a human embryo clone for the first time in medical history.

Our correspondent said that at the time, it aroused much interest in South Korea, especially with infertile parents. In Korea's Confucian society, continuing the family bloodline is considered important.

Now the announcement of a Korean woman pregnant with a baby clone is expected to cause a new round of debate on regulating human cloning.

Scientists who have been involved in animal cloning overwhelmingly believe that at present human cloning is unsafe; that the risk of problems is simply too high.

BioFusion, however, says it is sure the technology is safe, and that the pregnancy could be terminated if problems do emerge.

Extra-terrestrial experiments

The BBC's science correspondent Richard Black said scientists would inevitably be sceptical of a company linked to Clonaid, not least because of the organisation's colourful history.

It was set up five years ago by the Raelian Movement, a US-based religious cult which believes that humans were created by a genetic engineering experiment carried out by super-intelligent extra-terrestrial beings.

They see human cloning as a route to eternal life.

In the aftermath of 11 September, they declared that cloning would in the future make terrorism redundant, as every victim could be cloned and so re-created.

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