The startling claim by the Las Vegas-based genetics firm began to unravel from the outset. The company wouldn't disclose the baby girl's whereabouts, her real name or anything about her parents.
Then Clonaid's president raised doubts last week about any DNA testing, citing the parents' fears of a Broward County lawsuit that could cost them custody of their child. A few days later, a science journalist backed away from a commitment to head a team of independent experts to verify Clonaid's claim. "This whole thing needs to be regarded as a hoot until proven otherwise," said Kenneth Goodman, director of the bioethics program at the University of Miami. "To the extent they want anyone to take them seriously, they need to hew to standards of the scientific community. That means openness and transparency."
Clonaid claimed the breakthrough at a news conference at the Hollywood beach Holiday Inn Dec. 27, one day after the birth of baby "Eve" to a 31-year-old American woman outside the United States.
The scientific establishment ridiculed the company's claim, partly because the firm is closely connected to a Quebec-based Raelian religious sect that believes aliens from outer space created human life through cloning. Clonaid president Brigitte Boisselier had expressed complete confidence that her claims would be confirmed.
Boisselier, a leading member of the Raelian sect, said in a prepared statement released Tuesday that the child's parents have "postponed" the genetic tests indefinitely. "They will allow the test to be performed only when they have the absolute guarantee that the baby will not be taken from them," Boisselier said.
She referred to the lawsuit, which asks a state judge in Broward to allow Florida's child-welfare agency to take temporary custody of the girl. "I'm not advocating that a child be ripped from a mother's arms," said Coral Gables attorney Bernard Siegel, who filed the suit on his own. "On the contrary, I'm trying to show that this child faces grave medical risks."
Since the birth of Eve, Clonaid has claimed a second cloned baby was born to a lesbian couple in The Netherlands and that three others are on the way.
On Monday, Michael Guillen, a former ABC-TV science editor, changed his mind about leading a team of scientists to conduct DNA tests to verify the company's claim. He said Clonaid's announcement could be "part of an elaborate hoax" to generate publicity of the Raelian movement.
Clonaid vice president Thomas Kaenzig is expected to talk Saturday about the first cloning case and then discuss investment opportunities at the Fort Lauderdale MoneyWorld 2003 Conference at the Broward County Convention Center. Clonaid charges $200,000 for each human cloning. But the company's high profile role has caused repercussions: Morningstar Inc., the prominent Chicago-based investment research firm, canceled its scheduled demonstration on how to use the company's website at the conference.
"We had no idea before [Thursday] who the keynote speaker would be," Morningstar spokeswoman Margaret Kirch Cohen said. "It was part of the decision [to cancel], but not the only reason."