Canadian Sect Says First Cloned Baby Due in Weeks

A Canadian cult that believes in free love and that life on earth was created by extra terrestrials said it could deliver the world's first cloned baby on Christmas day.

But the announcement by the Quebec-based Raelians sect was greeted on Thursday with anger and skepticism from experts in the field.

"I am personally disgusted," said Arthur Leader, chief of reproductive medicine at the Ottawa Hospital. "It shows disrespect for human embryos and it demeans our humanity," he said.

Brigitte Boisselier, a bishop in the sect, said their company, Clonaid, cloned a human embryo last March and a baby girl is expected to be delivered within the next two weeks and possibly on Christmas Day.

"We are well advanced and the first baby is due for the end of this year. We think it will be a healthy baby," Boisselier told Reuters.

She said 10 human embryos were cloned last spring, with five miscarrying. The four other cloned babies are expected next year.

Boisselier, 45, is a biochemist associated with the Raelians, a cult that believes life on earth was genetically created by visiting extra-terrestrials.

Last February, the Raelians predicted a human clone within the next two years and in April, it said it had started work on cloning a terminally ill man.

Clonaid was forced to abandon its US laboratory after the US Food and Drug Administration warned in 2000 that it would not allow experiments on cloning humans.

Boisselier explained Clonaid used the eggs of a woman as well as cells from a donor. One cell was selected and put into the woman's egg, which was implanted into the uterus of the woman being cloned.

"The baby has developed very normally and has been followed closely. We are not talking about a monster but about a baby desired by her parents," Boisselier said.

The news follows the announcement by an Italian group, led by Dr. Severino Antinori, which said last month a woman was expected to give birth to a cloned boy in January.

Canadian scientists expressed doubt the Raelians, founded by 55-year-old leader Claude Vorilhon, had the expertise to deliver a healthy cloned baby.

"I don't see a valid reason to be in this area at this time. I don't think there is a team anywhere that could create a healthy baby," Leader said, stressing that cloning of animals had been quite problematic in the first phases.

Religion specialists said the Raelian movement was good at generating publicity with its stunts.

"It is not the first time they have announced things like that," said Mike Kropveld, executive director of Montreal-based Info-Cult.