The spiritual leader of the Raelian movement is accustomed to ridicule; he is, after all, best known for his belief in extraterrestrials. But now that a Raelian-sponsored cloning laboratory somewhere in the U.S. is said to be preparing to clone a 10-month-old American girl, Rael is generating another reaction.
" Twenty-seven years ago, when I talked about cloning, they laughed. They don't any more. Now they are afraid, " Rael told about 700 people crammed into the Theatre du Gesu on Bleury St. yesterday.
On hand for the rare conference given by Rael - who claims to be in regular contact with the gods, known in the movement as Elohim - were a camera crew from a U.S. television network and a photographer preparing for a New York Times magazine story.
Duplicate of Daughter
In 1997, shortly after Dolly the sheep was cloned, Rael announced in Las Vegas the formation of the first human cloning company, Clonaid. Rael and the firm's director, Brigitte Boisselier, said Clonaid has evolved into a viable enterprise that has investors, a staff and a list of about 250 clients.
Rael said a wealthy American family, whose 10-month-old child died because of a hospital error, is providing major financial support for the venture and will get the first clone, a genetic duplicate of their departed daughter. The family's contributions include all the money it will get from a wrongful-death suit against those responsible for the child's death, Rael said. The second human clone will also go to a wealthy family who is supplying seed money, he said.
A fund has also been established for legal fees, said Rael, who expects that legal challenges to human cloning will eventually take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But the cloned daughter will be presented to the world via television before 2001 is over, Rael said. " Public opinion will turn completely ... (and people) will say this cloning is perfect, " he predicted.
Until he was renamed Rael by the aliens he says first visited him in 1973, he was a sportswriter named Claude Vorilhon. Rael means " the messenger " and part of the message is that humans were created in the image of the Elohim as the result of an intergalactic genetic experiment.
Rael said cloning will not only give " genetic codes a second chance, " it will pave the way to eternal life. Not everyone will appreciate the thought of life eternal nor have the love of life and spirituality required for a long voyage on Earth, Rael predicted.
Neither the identity of the family nor the location of the lab, where scientists are now preparing equipment, can be disclosed, Boisselier said in a brief interview.
In previous published accounts, Boisselier has been quoted as saying the cloning will cost about $300,000 and that it will cost $3 million to complete experiments leading to the first cloning.
The hedonistic Raelians, who believe in liberal sex, are said to number about 500,000. The Swiss-based movement has a substantial following in Quebec and has a UFOland in Valcourt.