Leader of alien sect claims goal of cloning is eternal life, fantastic wealth

Knight Ridder/December 29, 2002
By Oscar Corral and Jay Weaver

Miami -- Claude Vorilhon, founder of the Raelian religion whose followers claim to have cloned the first human, says its goal is to create eternal life through cloning - and make a lot of money doing it.

In an hourlong interview Sunday, Vorilhon said a company he founded in 1997 has a waiting list of about 2,000 customers willing to pay $200,000 each to have themselves or a loved one cloned. He said he won't profit directly because he has distanced himself from Clonaid since founding it. But the French native said he won't turn away donations from the company.

"It's a commercial company and her goal is to make as much money as possible, and I hope she will make as much as possible,'' he said of Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, a scientist and close associate who orchestrated the cloning.

Speaking at the home of a follower in a gated community in North Miami-Dade County, Vorilhon detailed his philosophy, the rationale for cloning the baby known as Eve, and his grand strategy for the future. The Raelian leader was dressed in white space-age clothing from head to toe, sporting a knot of hair on his head.

Vorilhon, known as Rael to his followers, said that within 25 years, group scientists may develop technology to create a full-grown human clone in just hours and the mind of the cloned adult would receive instant knowledge via the "uploading'' of information directly from the brain of another person.

Vorilhon claimed he doesn't know the identify of the cloned baby girl or the name of her American mother, but said she was born outside the United States. He said he would advise Boisselier not to identify the child until she's an adult to protect her privacy.

"It's a very beautiful step, but it's just a step,'' Vorilhon, 56, said, alluding to the alleged cloning of "Eve.'' "The ultimate goal is to give eternal life to humanity through cloning. The next step that will be discovered soon is what we call accelerated growth process to accelerate cellular multiplication.

"So, instead of needing nine months, then 18 years to make an adult, with a special technology you can have an adult clone copy of yourself in a few hours. This adult copy is just a blank tape, empty of memory and personality, just what you call hardware.''

Vorilhon expects "step 3'' to materialize around the same time. Through advancements in neurological science and computer technology, he said, within 20 to 25 years scientists will be able to download the contents of an aging person's brain and then upload them into a clone's brain, he said.

"When you are about to die, you create an adult clone of yourself - young - and download your memory and personality inside this new body, and like that you can live forever.''

Many of the world's leading religious and political leaders have condemned the alleged cloning birth as irresponsible and devoid of ethics. Also, many members of the scientific community have expressed deep skepticism about the cloning claim, some going as far as calling it a possible hoax.

But Vorilhon says Raelians are at the vanguard of science and philosophy, taking into account the technologies that more established religions eliminate from their equations of faith.

"We are now living in a world that has become complicated,'' Vorilhon said. "The problem is that you have men of today with tomorrow's technology and yesterday's philosophy.

"People are lost and misguided by primitive religions & they are trying to slow down science. Nothing can stop science.''

For someone so passionate about the concrete truths of science, Vorilhon offers little more than verbal accounts of his alleged encounters with extraterrestrials - the very basis of his religion.

Vorilhon said he was on his way to work as a journalist at a car racing magazine in a small town outside Paris on Dec. 13, 1973, when something prodded him to drive to a volcanic crater nearby.

There, he said, he saw flashing lights and a 23-foot-wide flying saucer in the sky.

Upon landing, he said, a 4-foot-tall alien emerged from the craft, renamed him Rael and told him he was the son of Yahweh and the brother of Jesus.

The alien visitor told Vorilhon that life on Earth was created in extraterrestrial laboratories by the Elohim, an advanced people from space. He said humans will one day be gods themselves, creating life, traveling throughout the universe, and spreading it to other planets.

"The people we create will look at us as gods,'' he said.

Vorilhon, who snowbirds in South Florida in the winter, calls himself a prophet of the Elohim. Vorilhon has two children, one who supports his religious views. The other is estranged.

When asked what he would say to people who call him evil, he said: "Every religion has fanatic people who believe that other religions are evil.''

He said he communicates with the extraterrestrials through telepathy once a year, and they tell him where to focus his missionary efforts. He said China is their next stop.

Vorilhon offers no proof of his alien encounters.

Likewise, Boisselier, who is Clonaid's head, has yet to offer hard evidence proving the birth of the world's first cloned baby, but has said that an independent journalist will have DNA test results within days.

The credibility of the pair has been called into question before their startling disclosure.

After scientists in Scotland produced a newborn sheep called Dolly from sheep cells in 1997, Vorilhon founded his company that is dedicated to cloning. Indeed, cloning plays a major part in the Raelian religion's belief that one day scientists will engineer an endless circle of human life.

Since its inception, Clonaid, originally registered in the Bahamas, has stirred up hope, outrage and scandal.

The company - and the movement behind it - entered the political mainstream in March 2001 when Vorilhon and Boisselier testified before a congressional committee about the future of cloning.

The United States has no specific law prohibiting the creation of human clones. Last year, the House of Representatives passed a bill banning all forms of human cloning, but the legislation stalled in the Senate.

"Stopping science is a crime against humanity,'' Vorilhon testified.

Boisselier, who was a visiting assistant professor of chemistry at Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y., shocked congressional members with her account of Clonaid's effort to clone a baby for a West Virginia couple who had lost their 10-month-old child to a heart defect in 1999.

"We will do all that is humanly possible to bring the belated twin of this boy back to life and healthy,'' Boisselier testified. "If it becomes impossible to do it in this country, Clonaid will go elsewhere.''

Clonaid's venture was partly financed by Mark and Tracy Hunt, the Charleston, W.Va., parents who put up $500,000 to create a cloning lab in a former high school in the nearby town of Nitro.

The U.S. Justice Department and the Food and Drug Administration considered stopping Clonaid in court, according to published reports. When federal investigators inspected the lab, they concluded the company was years away from attempting to clone a human.

A federal grand jury in Syracuse, N.Y., then launched an investigation into whether Boisselier defrauded the Hunts and other potential investors.

Boisselier could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Mark Hunt, a lawyer and former state legislator, eventually parted ways with Boisselier, calling her a "press hog'' in The Syracuse Post-Standard. Vorilhon told The Miami Herald on Sunday that no charges were filed, and he planned to sue the U.S. government. He said the Nitro lab was merely a "decoy'' and that the real research was taking place elsewhere.

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