Who is Rael and why does he want to clone humans?

Daytona Beach News-Journal/December 28, 2002

If you are a Raelian, human cloning is a no-brainer. You believe that cloning is the path to immortality, a chance to live forever.

So perhaps it should be no surprise that the Raelian religious sect would try to lead the way in human cloning.

On Friday, Clonaid, the company founded by the sect, claimed it had produced a healthy baby girl -- called Eve by the scientists -- using DNA taken from the skin cells of her 31-year-old American mother.

No proof was presented and experts worldwide are skeptical, but Clonaid's chief executive, who is a Raelian bishop, promises genetic evidence of the breakthrough will be provided within about 10 days.

Cloning humans is at the heart of the Raelian theology of "scientific creation," which the movement describes as an alternative to both Darwinian evolution and the creation dogma of some religions.

"Cloning," says Rael, the movement's leader, "is the key to eternal life."

To most people, the group's creation myth sounds like an X-Files story line.

Rael claims life on earth was created by extraterrestrials through genetic engineering. The leader says the ET race is even given a name in the Bible -- Elohim -- a word he says has been mistranslated as the word "God."

The Raelians (pronounced RYE-elians) also contend Jesus was resurrected using an advanced cloning technique performed by the Elohim.

The next step, according to Rael, "will be to directly clone an adult person without having to go through the growth process and to transfer memory and personality in this person."

"Then, we wake up after death in a brand new body just like after a good night's sleep!"

Rael was christened Claude Vorilhon 56 years ago in France -- conceived on Christmas day, he says. He became an auto racing journalist. One day in 1973 while touring the crater of a French volcano, he met little green space aliens on a flying-saucer visit.

The extraterrestrials told him they created human life on Earth through genetic engineering. Now the bearded Rael wears flowing white robes.

Brigitte Boisselier, the chemist who made Friday's cloning announcement, is both a Raelian bishop and Clonaid's chief executive.

At the news conference she appeared to be wearing the Raelian silver medallion combining the Star of David and a snowflake, symbolizing infinite time and space.

The group claims 55,000 devotees worldwide and operates its own theme park, UFOland, near Montreal. During the 1990s, Quebec granted religious status to the movement. Its representatives have conducted condom distribution programs aimed at Canadian teenagers, while also promoting open sexual expression reminiscent of the free-love days in the 1960s.

Rael launched Clonaid, the first human cloning company, in 1997 after the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to have been cloned from an adult.

In 2000, Rael handed the Clonaid project over to Boisselier, 46.

According to Friday's Le Monde newspaper in Paris, she previously served as project chief for a dozen years at France's Air Liquide, but was fired when the company learned of her interest in human cloning and her membership in the Rael group, officially listed in France as a sect.

Boisselier holds doctorates in analytical and physical chemistry from the University of Houston and the University of Dijon, France. She taught chemistry for one year at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., but resigned last spring.

Clonaid first operated from a former classroom in Nitro, W.Va. A Charleston attorney and former state legislator, Mark Hunt, provided up to $500,000 in seed money in exchange for cloning his infant son, Andrew, who died in September, 1999 following surgery to correct heart defects.

The company moved to an undisclosed overseas location later that year after receiving a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which said Friday it will investigate whether the group did anything illegal in this country.

Researchers familiar with the sect speculate that Boisselier's next step may be to patent the cloning method before anybody else.

Religious studies professor Douglas Cowan of the University of Missouri-Kansas City visited the Raelian compound in 1998.

What happens if Boisselier and the owners of UFOland wind up owning human cloning technology?

"If they have in fact done it," Cowan said, "it will kickstart a huge ethical debate."

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