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What's wrong with human cloning.

Team set to clone first human Toronto Star, March 10, 2001

Human cloning is much in the news today. The following article helps the reader to understand what exactly is meant by "human cloning," and when it is morally licit and when not.


Ignoring the opposition of both religious and pro-life leaders, the British House of Lords has passed a government bill to allow the cloning of embryos, and, until they are fourteen days old, the extraction of stem cells from them to create tissues and organs in the laboratory. Lord Winston assured the House of Lords that the benefits far outweigh the ethical debates of "creating" human embryos for experimentation.

The European Parliament urged Britain to stop its cloning plans, and Japan has enacted a law that would make cloning a crime punishable by up to ten years in jail. The U.S. law, which allows public funds to support stem cell research on embryos obtained from in-vitro fertilization clinics, is expected to be tightened under the Bush administration. What about Canada?


Canada has no regulation regarding cloning or any other reproductive technology, but the government is forming a committee to advise it on stem cell policy. Though Allan Rock, the Minister of Health, claims that he is determined to ban ethically offensive procedures, he reportedly "does not want to impede scientific advances that could improve treatment of degenerative illnesses"; e.g., cancer and Parkinson's disease. A recent Price-Waterhouse survey showed opposition in Canada to "cloning humans"; however, there is support for "cloning human organs for transplantation and conducting medical research using stem cells from embryos".

It appears that the Health Department is considering cloning of human embryos for the purposes of organ reproduction to create replacement body parts, but not for the purpose of creating a living human being. People with liver disease could have their DNA transferred to the cloned cell to create an "early stage embryo". Stem cells from this embryo could be cloned and used to grow replacement liver tissue with matching DNA. This process was called "non-reproductive cloning".

Word Games

It is clear that the reality that an embryo is from the beginning a human being, with all the intrinsic rights of a human being, is being obscured and denied by the use of language, which implicitly contradicts that which every biological scientist knows to be an objective scientific fact. The embryo, if less than fourteen days old, is regarded as mere biological material.

Phrases like "early embryo, not a living being, cloning organs not cloning humans, non-reproductive cloning", are nothing but a deceptive camouflage hiding the fact that this research involves killing. Micheline MathewsRoth, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, put it well:" It's crucial for people to realize that the only way to get embryonic stem cells is literally to tear apart living human embryos". Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice-president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, has said that this way of obtaining stem cells, "this criminal act, catastrophic for the future of not understood as such". Why is this so? Let me explain.


The word clone has several technical definitions. In order clearly to understand this debate about the ethics of cloning, it is necessary to grasp the meaning of the relevant definitions of the word. In the context of this debate, the word is defined in the following manner.

Used as a noun:

1. A cell of a group of genetically identical cells produced (replicated) by (mitotic) division from one cell

2. An organism or a group of genetically identical organisms descended from a single cell by an asexual process; e.g., transferring a nucleus from a body (somatic) cell into an egg cell from which the nucleus has been removed (enucleated).

Used as a verb:

1. To replicate cells from a single cell; e.g., from a stem cell. The stem cell may have been derived from an embryo, resulting in the death of the embryo, or it may have been derived from a child or adult, or from blood in the umbilical cord, with no harm to anyone.

2. To produce an organism by transferring a nucleus from a somatic cell into an enucleated egg cell.

Moral considerations

The Catholic Church has repeatedly expressed its appreciation and encouragement of scientific research, especially when it is directed to the prevention and treatment of illness. It teaches that human life is sacred because, from its beginning, it involves "the creative action of God; one can, under any circumstances, claim for himself the right directly to destroy a human being". The Church also teaches that "the gift of human life must be actualized in marriage through the specific and exclusive acts of husband and wife, in accordance with the laws inscribed in their persons and in their union" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation, 5; 1986).

Hence, the Church teaches that it is morally wrong:

1. to acquire cells (to be cloned) from a human embryo, and in the process, kill the embryo. (Note that this is what is most often done when stem cells are obtained from embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization clinics.)

2. to produce a human embryo (as is done in in-vitro fertilization) by fusion of a sperm and an ovum, or by transferring the nucleus into an enucleated human egg (nuclear transfer).


A common understanding of cloning is the production of a human being (or of an animal as in the case of Dolly, the sheep). Another understanding of cloning is the use of stem cells in order to do research, or produce tissue, or test pharmaceuticals for the treatment of disease. This last process (of the three) can be morally licit if, and only if the stem cells are obtained without causing the death of the donor. Examples would be where body cells are taken from an adult, or from umbilical cord blood. Many of those involved in biotechnology speak of favouring "cloning for research", but are not in favour of cloning to create a "human being". This is a subterfuge.

Those who recommend the morning-after pill use the same ruse. They implicitly deny that life begins at conception, and that the embryo, in its first fourteen days, is a human being. Since they know that the cloning is done within fourteen days of the creation of the clone, they feel free to deny that a human being has been killed, as do those who refer to the morning-after pill as only a contraceptive. This kind of cloning is falsely referred to as "non-reproductive cloning".

There are a few scientists who want to produce human clones with the intention that they be allowed to develop into a full-term baby. This is very dangerous for the child so conceived. Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has stated that the genes of the body cell used for nuclear transfer are not in the appropriate physiological condition to allow for normal development into another member of the species. It should be noted that there were over 270 abnormal sheep embryos produced before the successful delivery of Dolly.

Legitimate cloning and stem cell research

Embryos, fortunately, are not the only source of stem cells. There are many ways of replicating stem cells which are morally acceptable and these techniques are technically very promising.

1. For decades bone marrow stem cells have been used successfully to treat patients whose immune system has been destroyed by cancer therapy.

2. Stem cells from umbilical cord blood have been shown to repair brain damage in rats.

3. Four million babies are born in the U.S. each year, and 99% of their cord blood is tossed away.

4. Stem cells from bone marrow injected into rats' hearts have produced heart muscle.

5. Human bone marrow cells have been made to produce nerve cells in a limitless supply.

6. Adult stem cells from a patient, derived from the patient's body, can be made to produce tissue which the patient's body will never reject. On the other hand embryonic stem cells are frequently rejected by a recipient's body and may require a lifetime of toxic immuno-suppressant drug treatment to prevent tissue rejection.

We must distinguish between morally licit cloning and stem cell research, and immoral cloning. The latter involves either the killing, or morally illicit procreation, of human embryos by in-vitro fertilization or nuclear transfer. Even if cloning from embryonic stem cells is done to help the treatment of disease, the good end cannot justify the evil means. The cloning of persons for eugenic reasons is equally nefarious.

How can we help?

In the U.S., 72% of Americans oppose human cloning, even if only for research. However, extensive research on live human embryos occurs, mostly in private in-vitro fertilization clinics in both Canada and the U.S. The Catholic Organization for Life and Faith (COLF) and the Catholic Health Association of Canada (CHAC) in a document on Organ and tissue donation and transplantation state unequivocally that "notwithstanding the great potential for good, the retrieval of (embryonic stem) cells is morally unacceptable because it results in the death of the embryo...a human person, including an embryo, must never be used as a means to an end".

All who realize the gravity posed by these developments in biotechnology must do everything possible to see that morally acceptable legislation is enacted in regard to these recent developments. We are not far from Dawson's "insect society", the "monstrous social which Western man, having created the technological order, has not yet learned how to control it" (C.I., March, 01). If we do not control it, it will, as Christopher Dawson predicted, destroy us. We must not let materialists do our thinking for us, but take a firm stand, and as witnesses to our Faith, try to show its light to a confused and self-destructive world, already deeply committed to the Culture of Death.


Please write (postage free) to Allan Rock, M.P., Minister of Health, House of Commons, Room 441 S, Centre Block, Ottawa, Ontario KlA 0A6

Dr. John Shea is a retired diagnostic radiologist and writes on medical matters for Catholic Insight. He lives in Toronto, ON.
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Title Annotation:religious and moral ethics of human cloning
Author:Shea, John
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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