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It is harder for the biotech companies to argue for compromise in a world where the worst-case scenario is getting all the attention. The Raelians are to the labs of America what Enron was to the boardrooms, a rebuke to the premise that science can be self-policing. "If you allow embryo cloning in research labs because of its supposed great potential," argues Representative Dave Weldon, Republican from Florida who did research in molecular genetics in graduate school, "you're going to have all these labs with all these embryos, and it will be that much easier for people like the Raelians to try to do reproductive cloning." Last session Congress passed a bill banning all cloning, but it died in the Senate, where lawmakers still hoped to write rules that will allow some embryonic research to proceed. Thanks to the Baby Eve announcement, supporters of a total ban feel that their chances are now much improved: "I think that gave it more of a sense of a clear and present danger," says Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who plans to reintroduce his bill quickly. His legislation would make it illegal even to import products derived from cloning done overseas--which some say raises the possibility that if scientists in Britain find a cure for Alzheimer's, American patients will be barred from getting it.
Indeed, some scientists argue that a total cloning ban would impel top U.S. scientists to move overseas, where there is more public support. Britain banned reproductive cloning but is allowing therapeutic research to move forward. "Blanket bans on technology are almost always a mistake," argues Tim Caulfield, research director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta. "You don't ban fertilizer because you can use it to make bombs. Don't ban cloning because it may be abused. What we should do is regulate the activities that may be abused, like human reproductive cloning."
No one doubts there's a demand for human cloning. On its website, Clonaid estimates it will charge $200,000 for its reproductive service, but Boisselier insisted to TIME that so far she has not charged the first guinea pigs. Clonaid also sells human eggs for about $5,000 each and offers "banks" in which to store cells in case a family wants to clone a loved one in the future. Boisselier also has a pet-cloning service called Clonapet, which she says has also received great interest. "The media only want to talk about possible birth defects, that the baby will be a monster, but the e-mails I get from people tell us we're brave, that we should go ahead," says Boisselier.
Still, there was ample reason to challenge her claims of success, even before she began backing off her promise of providing proof. No one has yet succeeded in cloning a primate despite thousands of tries; efforts at a dog have so far failed as well. Even among other mammals, more than 90% of the embryos never implant or die before or soon after birth. Among those most dismissive of her entire operation are the other researchers rushing to beat it, such as Italian fertility specialist Severino Antinori. He missed his own deadline, having announced last spring that he had a clone due in November. But he is quite certain Boisselier, who has yet to produce Baby Eve, hasn't succeeded either. "It's a great bluff," he barked into his cell phone. "I'm amazed the media believe this."