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Journalist: Cloning Claims May Be a Hoax

Michael Guillen
Journalist Michael Guillen is backing out of an agreement to vet the claim that a cloned baby has been born. Guillen says Clonaid has not provided any access to the alleged clone.
Photo: Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited

Jan. 6, 2003 -- A freelance science journalist who had agreed to independently verify claims that a cloned baby had been born has suspended his activities. In a written statement released Monday, Michael Guillen said he had not been given access to baby or mother, making verification impossible. Following is his statement, reprinted in its entirety:

Statement Introduction: The following statement was issued today by Dr. Michael Guillen, the scientist and freelance journalist who has organized a team of unbiased experts to independently review the claim that history's first human being has been cloned:

This morning, I suspended the independent review process designed to determine whether or not a cloned human baby has been born. The team of scientists has had no access to the alleged family and, therefore, cannot verify firsthand the claim that a human baby has been cloned. In other words, it's still entirely possible Clonaid's announcement is part of an elaborate hoax intended to bring publicity to the Raelian movement.

When and if an opportunity to collect DNA samples as promised does arise, however, the team stands fully prepared to re-mobilize and conduct the necessary tests.

Up until now, I have been declining all requests for interviews, quite simply because: 1) This story is not about me, but about Clonaid's claim; 2) I promised to deal with the media equally, and there was no possible way I could have granted all the interviews being asked of me; and 3) I have been focusing 100 percent of my time and attention trying to accomplish the job I set out to do -- put Clonaid's claim to the test. Nevertheless, there has been so much speculation voiced during the past week concerning my involvement in this story I feel I must begin to help set the record straight.

I have been covering the human cloning story and all of its principal players -- Drs. Brigitte Boisselier, Panos Zavos, Severino Antinori, Richard Seed, and others -- since February, 1997, when Ian Wilmut announced the birth of Dolly the Sheep. During that time, my science reports -- many of them exclusives -- chronicling the major successes, false starts, and dangers in mammalian cloning research appeared on ABC News and, more recently, CNN.

When Dr. Boisselier informed me and other reporters that she planned to announce the birth of the first human clone without proof, I proposed she allow me to put her claim to the test. Dr. Boisselier accepted my challenge and invited me to proceed. I made it very clear at the time that I was accepting the invitation on two non-negotiable conditions: 1) The invitation come with absolutely no strings attached; and 2) The actual testing be performed by a team of acknowledged first-rate, unbiased DNA specialists. My role, on behalf of the world's press, would be to observe and report on the team's process and findings.

Removing myself from the actual testing procedure was especially crucial to me, because of my well-known interest in doing a documentary on human cloning that would involve Dr. Boisselier's work; I wanted to avoid any possibility of bias.

With regard to the past ten days: After consulting with many top scientists in the field, I assembled a team of veterans from two highly-respected DNA testing facilities. Based entirely on their expert advice, a collection protocol was established. It was necessary for us to operate in secret, in order to protect the identity of the alleged parents who were unwilling to reveal themselves. But as I promised at the December 27 press conference, when and if the testing is ever completed, I will make the experts and their review process public and entirely transparent.

In conclusion, there is little I can do to help the public wrestle with the huge religious, ethical, social, and political implications of Clonaid's claim and human cloning in general. After nearly six years of covering the human cloning story closely -- trying to help alert an unsuspecting world to what was being attempted right under its nose -- I'm still struggling with those daunting issues myself.

Nevertheless, as a scientist and journalist, there is a great deal I can do to help the public wrestle with a much smaller question, namely: "Has the first human being really been cloned?" As it turns out, there are straightforward scientific tests that can help settle that all-important question with enormous confidence. Unfortunately, however, until those tests are performed in a controlled and unbiased fashion, all we'll be left with is what we have now -- opinion and speculation being passed off as fact.

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