Raelian says faith costly but legitimate

Miami Herald/December 29, 2002
By Sara Olkon

For believing in aliens from space, Brigitte Boisselier says, she has already lost her job and custody of her youngest daughter.

Unfazed, the director of the Raelians' human cloning project still stares down skeptics with aplomb.

'I realize they say we are 'wacko' and 'out there,' '' Boisselier, 46, said Saturday in an interview with The Herald. "But we are the most rational of all.''

Boisselier's comments came one day after she publicly claimed in Hollywood that the first cloned human baby, named Eve, has been born to a 31-year-old American woman in an undisclosed location. She says four other cloned babies are due to be born soon.

She offered no proof, and many scientists say they don't think cloning of humans is possible yet. A freelance television journalist says he is arranging for scientific testing of the mother and baby. Boisselier declined to disclose their whereabouts.

Along with other Raelians, Boisselier believes humans were created by scientists from another planet.

In recent years, she has become the most visible member of the sect, a former chemistry professor who wears her hair stick-straight, painted with streaks colored Ronald McDonald orange and brilliant white.

Raised as a Catholic on a farm in France, the mother of three joined the sect in 1993 after going to hear group founder Rael, aka Claude Vorilhon, speak.

''I am not the kind of girl who can trust a theory based on one person,'' she said emphatically. But suddenly, that December day, she felt an intense connection, and just knew "he wasn't lying.''

According to published reports, Boisselier has doctorates in analytical and physical chemistry from the University of Dijon in France, and the University of Texas -- a far cry from her new position as spokeswoman for a fringe religion.

She conceded that her parents were having a hard time accepting her role.

Boisselier got interested in the Raelian faith shortly after leaving her husband, the father of her three children.

She said he was violent. Apparently a judge didn't buy it. During a fight over their youngest -- Iphijenie, now 13 -- a French judge awarded custody to the father. This, Boisselier says, is nothing but French intolerance for non-mainstream religions.

She said she hasn't seen the girl for 18 months.

That wasn't the only loss. After she embraced Raelian beliefs, she was also booted from her job as a research chemist at Air Liquide, a French company.

She moved to the United States. After a brief teaching stint in Plattsburgh, N.Y., she landed a visiting professorship in the chemistry department of Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

She says she went from popular professor to pariah after her views on cloning were published in The New York Times Magazine. When she returned to school the Tuesday after he views were published, she felt ''something different'' in the atmosphere.

''I could feel that no one was listening to what I was saying,'' she said.

She left -- she says voluntarily -- and devoted herself full-time to the Raelian cause. She now lives in Las Vegas.

Her 24-year-old daughter, Marina Cocolios, is also a member. An art student, she says she is ready to carry one of the clones herself. Boisselier said that hasn't happened yet.

Boisselier, who wore a form-fitting camel-colored pantsuit Saturday, is a Raelian bishop, one of 25 members of Rael's inner circle. She is also part of the Order of Angels, women who have promised to be ''hostesses'' to the space alien creators when they arrive on earth.

The sexual overtones are clear, but she said there is absolutely no coercion involved.

''Freedom of love is freedom to say yes to many lovers,'' she explained. " We believe the feminine aspect will bring more peace to the world.''

She is at once indignant at and dismissive of critics, who have pounced hard on the ethical and safety considerations of her cloning program.

''You can still go back to your office and treat me as a fraud,'' Boisselier said Friday to a roomful of journalists. "You have one week to do that.''

She believes that at the end of that week tests will show that her claims are true.

Some experts say DNA test results should be available much more quickly. But Boisselier said the group wanted to give the child and her mother some time alone.

She said she hasn't met Eve yet because she "was afraid of being followed.''

If more people sign up for the cloning, the endeavor could make the scientist a rich woman. She owns a majority stake in Clonaid, the company founded by Rael in 1997 to undertake the cloning project.

Boisselier, Clonaid's scientific director, snagged half a million dollars for the company from Mark and Tracy Hunt, a Charleston couple mourning the loss of a 10-month-old baby. The distraught Hunts were searching for a way to bring their son Andrew back to life after he died in 1999 following heart surgery.

Close to a year after the child's death, Boisselier and Mark Hunt set up a secret lab in West Virginia and brought three scientists into the project.

The pair later had a falling out, and the Hunts are no longer involved in the project.

When news of the work appeared on the company's website, U.S. Food and Drug Administration agents pressured them to stop the work.

But they have regrouped elsewhere. At present, Boisselier says she is associated with another biochemist, two biologists, an obstetrician, an in-vitro specialist and a pediatrician in a new lab at an undisclosed location.

Boisselier notes that many people were also opposed to in-vitro fertilization when it was first tried.

'Every time new technology is introduced, especially involving reproduction, you get the 'yuck' effect,'' she said. " I will be vindicated.''

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