Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, director of Clonaid, “the first human cloning company,” chats with MSNBC about her reasons for supporting human cloning. Dr. Boisselier addressed the room from Canada on the phone through a typist. Chat producer Will Femia moderates.
MSNBC-Will: Welcome Dr. Boisselier :)
Brigitte Boisselier: Thank you.
Question from Juan: I wonder who exactly was being cloned. Whose genetic material was being used... I wonder if it was Rael himself.
Brigitte Boisselier: I think Rael has no wish for that. I never talked about that with him, but he has two children and I don’t think he wants another one.
MSNBC-Will Femia: If not him, who? How do you make the selection?
Brigitte Boisselier: I don’t select anybody because who am I to select? I have a lot of requests. There are regulations telling me that certain people shouldn’t be cloned, and I will respect that. I should be more clear, if someone has a daughter who is dying and wants a clone to have a sister twin, I always remind them that the clone may have the disease as well because that can be genetic.
MSNBC-Will Femia: So would being disease free be a qualification for cloning?
Brigitte Boisselier: I don’t think we should clone people with diseases, but I don’t think there is more qualification from one person to another. What I realized is that most people who want cloning are eager infertile couples or people who are living alone and want a baby but don’t want to mix genes with someone else. That’s basically the people who call me. If someone were to say, “I’d like to be cloned and I don’t want to give you any explanation,” as long as he’s cloning himself, why should I ask him for justification?
If he wants to mix his genes with the partner of his choice, that’s fine. If he doesn’t want to mix his genes with another, then I think that should be a fundamental choice too. Naturally you shouldn’t clone yourself too much because you don’t want to impose too much on your own government, but other than that, you should be able to do what you want with your own genes.
Question from Martha-the-conservative: Thank you for taking my question. Do you think that we should have a national dialog into the philosophic, ethical and moral aspects of human cloning or do you feel that we should allow science to take its course?
Brigitte Boisselier: I think we should have a national debate and I’ve been pushing for that to happen for the last 4 years. What’s terrible is that we talk about “how soon can we prohibit” and “how can we prohibit” and it’s not an open dialogue about the possibilities. I think any scientific advance has the worst and the best inside of it. You can do very good things and very bad things depending on the conscience of the user. For that reason I think that regulations are good, but prohibition is bad.
That’s why I would think that we should have regulations -that you shouldn’t use someone else’s genes, you can use your own but shouldn’t play with those of others. And you shouldn’t clone yourself in the hundreds of thousands. Other than that, why should we be afraid of a baby who is born and raised and loved? Even if it comes from a different environment?
Question from Timothy Donahue: Do you think it is responsible to clone a human being when such a high percentage of cloned animals are born with defects?
Brigitte Boisselier: Absolutely. Cloned animals reflect the level of knowledge that we have on animal reproduction, not the knowledge we have of cloning. They have been improving a lot in the last 20 years, but what bothers me is that when they do cow cloning, they implant every embryo they have, including the ones with defects. We would never do that. We would make sure to use only the healthy embryos for human cloning.
With the 22 years experience that we have on in vitro fertilization of humans, those working on cow cloning have 10 or 12 years before they catch up with that. When we prepare a human embryo, of course there are diagnoses to do and we in our company check the genes. In cow cloning, this level of screening does not take place, they don’t know what genes to look for, so that’s why they have the defects.
Question from Ralph Scowden: Considering all the known risks presented by human cloning attempts, why try to do it now, at such an early stage? Is there a reason to rush? Doesn’t this stand to do more harm than good for the Raelian cause if something goes wrong?
Brigitte Boisselier: I agree that if something goes wrong it will be very bad for me, but this is why I am so confident, I know what we’re doing is ok. We have very well trained scientists, we are not in a rush. I’m just saying that I’m doing it, and you see that as rushing, but we’re just serious people doing serious things, working toward a goal. And I hope that the other teams working on it are also as serious about it.
Question from Dexter Gary, M.D.: Embryonic stem cell research potentially is the gift of life from God to an afflicted mankind
MSNBC-Will: Is that how you feel about cloning?
Brigitte Boisselier: This technology will help people have a child and help people with serious diseases and help people to have a better life. And down the road I believe that cloning will enable us to have some kind of eternal life. Cloning combining with age research will lead to an extending of human life. I don’t believe in an eternal life anywhere except on earth. If we want to live in paradise, that is here.
Question from Robert: Where can one go to volunteer for a human cloning experiment?
Brigitte Boisselier: There are some people who wish very much to be on the list, so yes we are talking to those people and we are assuring them that we will let them know when we are ready. Usually they can contact us through Clonaid.com.
MSNBC-Will Femia: A bioethics columnist on our site referred to Clonaid as “a laboratory run by a UFO cult.” Would you like to answer that charge?
Brigitte Boisselier: Clonaid is a private company, we’re funded by Rael who also funds the religious movement (not a cult). Rael is not involved in that anymore, we are completely private, there is no money between the two organizations. The only link is the philosophical link because I am the director of Clonaid and a Raelian Bishop. The newspapers make the association, but Clonaid is a private company.
Question from Jimmy: What is the medical benefit of cloning a human? Do you want to farm replacement organs?
Brigitte Boisselier: Cloning will enable people to have a baby. I hope that they are not crazy enough to clone a baby just for the parts. I never had anyone suggest that to me.
MSNBC-Will Femia: Are you working on cloning individual human parts or just the whole thing?
Brigitte Boisselier: Our major goal is cloning a human being. Our technology could be used later on for organ cloning, but we’re not working on that now. There are many teams working on that though.
Question from Wit: Are you discouraged by the lack of support for cloning? Have religious groups threatened to stop you by any means necessary or anything like that?
Brigitte Boisselier: I’m not discouraged at all because I never expected any support. It’s true that I’ve received a lot of death threats, mostly saying that I’m going to hell or something like that, but this will never stop me.
Question from Jessie: Since you seem to have embraced the practical side of human cloning, have you also given thoughts to its regulation and prevention of abuse?
MSNBC-Will Femia: You mentioned not playing with someone else’s genes, and no excessive cloning of an individual. Are there other restrictions you think should be added?
Brigitte Boisselier: That’s what comes to my mind from what I know of the questions I’ve received. There should also be the regulations like there are for in vitro fertilization regarding the facilities and things like that. Apart from that I don’t think there should be more. But this is only my little voice on the subject because I think there should be a national debate on this.
Question from Hu: Do you see clones as real people or some kind of freaky incomplete human?
Question from Blue_Star: Won’t Clones have their own rights?
Brigitte Boisselier: It’s terrible for me to realize that some people don’t think clones would be real people. That is the result of bad information and bad movies. People were asking the same thing when the first test tube baby was born. People said she would have a terrible life and people would treat her like a freak and point at her and say she has no soul. Instead she lives a happy life. We are not trying to create a monster.
Some people say the clone will not have a soul and things like that. I don’t believe in soul, I believe in DNA, and I believe in the individual and that’s what makes the soul, the individual. The reference to a soul is the DNA because that’s what makes us unique and what animates us.
Twins are individuals. Centuries ago, they thought that one twin had no soul and they would kill them, but obviously this is not rational. The fear of a soulless clone is also not rational and I feel terribly that people believe it to be the case.
Question from Pete Falcone: I don’t understand the line about believing that you make yourself eternal with clones. You do realize that your clone is a totally separate person don’t you?
Brigitte Boisselier: I said that becoming eternal will be down the road. We are not there yet. Once we are able to upload personalities and memory from the brain to a computer and back to a brain, things which are under research today, that would make it possible to put us in a new body. That may be 20 or 30 years away, but that’s what I’m talking about this research possibly leading to.
MSNBC-Will Femia: Did the FDA specify what they would do to you or your organization if you actually do clone a human?
Brigitte Boisselier: No. They were not specific.
MSNBC-Will Femia: Thank you very much Dr. Boisselier for chatting with us today.
Brigitte Boisselier: Thank you.