Singapore warns against cloning

The Singapore government has warned its citizens against human cloning after a foreign group linked to the controversial Raelian sect claimed two couples from the city-state had signed up with it to engineer babies.

Clonaid, which claims to have produced 13 cloned babies worldwide, told the Streats daily newspaper two Singaporean couples had signed deals agreeing to pay $200 000 (about R1,2-million) to conceive children through cloning.

The claim prompted the health ministry to issue a warning against human cloning, branding it unethical and highlighting government plans to introduce a law this year banning the practice.

Penalties for cloning offenders under the new law will be up to 10 years' jail and a fine of 100 000 Singapore dollars (about R360 000).

The health ministry "is confident that Singapore doctors and researchers will not participate in such unethical activities," the statement published by Streats on Wednesday and confirmed as accurate by the government, said.

The ministry also cautioned Clonaid's claims to have produced 13 cloned babies had not been confirmed by any credible medical sources around the world.

However Clonaid President Brigitte Boisselier told Streats in an email the company still intended to take in Singaporean clients, with the two couples who had already signed due to begin the cloning process somewhere overseas next year.

"Clonaid will continue to welcome Singaporeans in Clonaid's facilities, which are located in a country where our operations are perfectly legal," the paper quoted her as saying.

But she retracted her firm's earlier claims that it was planning to set up an operational base in Singapore.

Clonaid's vice-president Thomas Kaenzig had told the paper last week that the company was looking for "a new stronghold in Asia" and wanted to work in Singapore because of its proximity to big markets in Japan and South Korea, as well as its technological manpower.

The Raelian sect, which claims about 55 000 followers worldwide, believe life on Earth was established by extraterrestrials who arrived in flying saucers 25 000 years ago and produced the first humans through cloning.

The sect was founded in 1973 by former French journalist Claude Vorilhon, or "Rael". Rael, who lives in Quebec, considers himself a prophet akin to Moses or Mohamed.

Boisselier announced the birth of the first alleged clone, named "Baby Eve", on December 26, 2002.