Cloning vs Catholicism

on Friday, 01 March 2013. Posted in Church teachings

Cloning vs Catholicism

In order to instruct our readers and to eliminate any misconceptions regarding the teaching of the Catholic Church on the cloning of human beings; we have decided to treat both the therapeutic and reproductive types of cloning in this article. As we will see from this analysis, human cloning is a grossly immoral, sinful act and we, as Catholics, strongly oppose this criminal act of science over God’s creation.

There are clinics around the world who present cloning as a compelling option for couples who cannot have their own biological child. This is false, especially because science been unable to develop a credible method of cloning (even animals) without any defects in their genetic makeup. The cloning of human beings is fraught with error, as well as a connection to an internal spirit within that wishes to dominate over another. What gives one person a right to choose over another? We will study this question here.

In the past, Pope John Paul II explained to us that: “The act of cloning is a predetermined act which forces the image and likeness of the donor and is actually a form of imposing dominion over another human being which denies the human dignity of the child and makes him or her, a slave to the will of others. The child would be seen as an object and a product of one’s fancy rather than as a unique human being, equal in dignity to those who ‘created’ him or her. The practice of cloning would usurp the role of creator and would thus be seen as an offence before God...”

Let us properly define the commonly used conceptions of dignity, humanity, uniqueness, and freedom. These words have never been so misused as they are now, in our times:

Dignity: an inherent nobility or worth, a being worthy of respect because he is created in the image and likeness of God

Humanity: the condition, state or quality of being human

Uniqueness: a being that is completely distinct in genetic makeup and personality

Freedom: the ability to exercise free will, recognize truth and live it to the fullest

 

The Dignity of a Person

Dignitas Personae (The Dignity of a Person), is an Instruction from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on ethical issues arising from biomedical research. This document provides guidance on “how to respect human life and procreation in our extremely scientific age,” states Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dignitas Personae is only one document of many that the Church has published that demonstrates the Church’s position on this very important issue. It says that: “We oppose discarding or manipulating innocent lives to benefit future generations, or promoting the creation of new human life in depersonalized ways that substitute for the loving union between a husband and wife.” Cardinal George also comments that the document defends unborn children.

Dignitas Personae approves only fertility treatments that “succeed in re-establishing the normal function of human procreation” as well as “stem cell research and therapies that respect the inherent dignity of the human person.” (This approved stem cell research is not like that what is done on aborted fetuses–which is evil). The Vatican Congregation also expresses support for those medical fields assisting infertile couples through both adoption and research into infertility.

The Instruction underlines the unethical use of vaccines containing the immoral use of cells and tissues and states that researchers must respect the inviolable dignity of human life, in all its stages of development. “Grave reasons may be morally proportionate to justify the use of such ‘biological material,’” the Instruction affirms, “Thus, for example, danger to the health of children could permit parents to use a vaccine which was developed using cell lines of illicit origin, while keeping in mind that everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask their healthcare system to make other types of vaccine available.”

It also speaks about a general attitude that is very popular today; an attitude of dissatisfaction with finite human nature as created, which amounts to a “eugenic mentality” that causes division between peoples and encourages the criteria that some groups may try to use, to decide what a “better” or more “perfect” human being is. This ideology seeks to take over God’s role in creation.

The Instruction also rejects attempts to create human/animal hybrids (including the use of animal eggs in an attempt at human cloning), noting that “from an ethical standpoint such procedures represent an offence against the dignity of human beings on account of the admixture of human and genetic elements capable of disrupting the specific identity of man.”

 

What is the difference between therapeutic and reproductive cloning?

The truth is that reproductive cloning and “therapeutic” or “research” cloning are not two different kinds of cloning: they involve the same technical cloning process and differ only in the goals being sought. With reproductive cloning, one aims to implant the cloned embryo in the uterus of a surrogate mother in order to “produce” a child; with “research” cloning, one aims to utilize immediately the cloned embryo, without allowing it to develop, thus eliminating it in the process. One can even affirm that any type of cloning is “reproductive” in its first stage, because it has to produce, through the cloning process, an individual autonomous new organism, endowed with a specific and unique identity, before attempting any other operation with that embryo.

”There remains, however, the fact that reproductive cloning is only part of the overall issue. Therapeutic cloning (the production of human embryos as suppliers of specialized stem cells that requires that embryos be used in the treatment of certain illnesses and then destroyed), must be addressed and prohibited. This exploitation of human beings, sought by certain scientific and industrial circles, and pushed forward by underlying economic interests, retains all its ethical repugnance as an even more serious offence against human dignity and the right to life, since it involves human beings (embryos) who are created in order to be destroyed.”

“Both forms of cloning involve disrespect for the dignity of the human being. In fact, from an ethical and anthropological standpoint, so-called therapeutic cloning, creating human embryos with the intention of destroying them, even if undertaken with the goal of possibly helping sick patients in the future, seems very clearly incompatible with respect for the dignity of the human being, making one human life nothing more than the instrument of another. Further, given the fact that cloned embryos would be indistinguishable from embryos created by in-vitro fertilization and could readily be implanted into wombs and brought to birth, we believe it would be practically impossible to enforce an instrument that allowed one type of cloning while banning the other.”

 

What constitutes a human embryo?

Now that the discussion has turned to cloning humans, political spokespersons for the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries will not admit that somatic cell nuclear transfers using a human nucleus produce a human embryo. They give two reasons for this:

Some spokespersons maintain – contrary to scientific evidence, the findings of the National Institutes of Health Human Embryo Research Panel, and current federal law on embryo research – that no human embryos should be called “embryos” for the first two weeks of existence.

Because cloned embryos are seen as such useful research material for destructive experiments, current restrictions on embryo research etc., must be evaded by denying that an embryo produced by cloning deserves the name.

These groups claim to oppose the cloning of “human beings” or “persons” – but they reserve the right to conduct cloning experiments on human embryos and fetuses so long as none is allowed to survive.

James Thomson, Ph.D., the leading embryonic stem cell researcher in the United States, was asked this question:

Q: “The people who use nuclear transfer generally say that the technique is optimized for producing the stem cells rather than making babies. They would not want to equate this with the process that produces embryos that were fit for implantation, and they’d argue that they’re using the reproductive process differently...

A: “See, you’re trying to define it away, and it doesn’t work. If you create an embryo by nuclear transfer, and you give it to somebody who didn’t know where it came from, there would be no test you could do on that embryo to say where it came from. It is what it is.

“It’s true that they have a much lower probability of giving rise to a child... But by any reasonable definition, at least at some frequency, you’re creating an embryo. If you try to define it away, you’re being disingenuous.”

The moral worth and dignity of a human being can never be compromised, if this happens than the Church teaches us that the action that causes this reaction is morally wrong. The inherent moral status of human beings comes from the reality that God created us in His image and likeness (manifested in intelligence and free will).

For this reason every human being, regardless of individual traits or circumstances possesses incomparable dignity. John Paul II explained that moral worth begins with the right to life. “From the moment of conception until death,” he adds, “the right to life is primary and fundamental. It is at the root and source of all other rights.” Therefore, the state of being human automatically confers moral status. As a result, any action that relegates any human being – at any stage of development from a one-celled embryo through natural death – to becoming a mere tool of research or a vehicle of production or profit is immoral.

 

Research

The research using human embryonic stem cells has been weighed down by many crucial scientific problems. Considering the unprecedented excitement of many scientists on the subject, embryonic stem cell experiments have not yet seen one success, even in animal cloning. Instead, embryonic stem cells are causing tumours in animal models, and so risk having the same effect on human patients. Unless dangers such as these are eliminated, embryonic stem cell experiments will never have any practical use. Even discounting the technical elements involved, the ethical questions arising from the exploitation of removing cells from living human embryos are of a very grave nature.

Therapeutic cloning (which should actually be called “research” cloning), was put forth to avoid the immune rejection of embryonic stem cells, taken from a donor other than the host. But abnormal embryos come into the scene at this point.

“It has been well established that most of the non-human embryos produced through nuclear transfer cloning are abnormal, with a deficiency in several of the genes (imprinted and non-imprinted) necessary to the development of the early embryo. Embryonic stem cells harvested from abnormal and unfit embryos will carry their ‘epigenetic defects’ and transmit at least part of them to their daughter cells. The transfer of such cloned embryonic stem cells into a patient would be therefore extremely hazardous: these cells might provoke genetic disorders, or initiate leukemias or other cancers. Moreover, a non-human primate model of cloning, which would be necessary in order to conduct experiments to establish safety before attempting therapeutic experiments in human beings, has yet to be developed.”

The health benefits of therapeutic cloning are hypothetical, inasmuch as the method itself remains mainly a hypothesis. Thus the crescendo of hyperboles extolling the promise of this type of research might in the end undermine the very cause it pretends to serve. Indeed, even putting aside fundamental ethical considerations other than the patient’s expectations, the present state of therapeutic cloning precludes, now and in the near future, any clinical application.

Scientists, philosophers, politicians, and humanists agree on the need for an international ban on reproductive cloning. From a biological standpoint, bringing cloned human embryos to birth would be dangerous for the human species. This asexual form of reproduction would bypass the usual “shuffling” of genes that makes every individual unique in his/her genome and would arbitrarily fix the genotype in one particular configuration, with predictable negative genetic consequences for the human genepool. It would also be prohibitively dangerous for the individual clone.

From an anthropological standpoint, most people recognize that cloning is offensive to human dignity. Cloning would, indeed, bring a person to life but through a laboratory manipulation in the order of pure zootechnology. This person would enter the world as a “copy” (even if only a biological copy) of another being. While ontologically unique and worthy of respect, the manner in which a cloned human being has been brought into the world would mark that person more as an artifact rather than a fellow human being, a replacement rather than an unique individual, an instrument of someone else’s will rather than an end in himself or herself, a replaceable consumer commodity rather than an unrepeatable event in human history.

There are potential harms that can result from genetic enhancements as well, including the following: (1) negative consequences in the targeted intervention, (2) negative consequences in a human function not previously thought to be related to the intervention, and (3) these consequences would not become apparent for a long time.

Document of the Holy See on Human Cloning

“If personhood is inexorably connected with an immortal soul, and if immortal souls can only be issued by God, then cloners would risk bringing into this world people without the essential equipment for personhood. And even if God guaranteed that clones, too, have souls, cloning could be construed as an arrogant attempt to force God’s hand.” But this particular subject of discussion has yet to be concluded by Catholic scholars.

“In the cloning process the basic relationships of the human person are perverted: filiation, consanguinity, kinship, parenthood... In-vitro fertilization has already led to the confusion of parentage, but cloning will mean the radical rupture of these bonds...

“The ‘human cloning’ project represents the terrible aberration to which value-free science is driven and is a sign of the profound malaise of our civilization, which looks to science, technology and the ‘quality of life’ as surrogates for the meaning of life and its salvation ... Halting the human cloning project is a moral duty which must also be translated into cultural, social and legislative terms.”

 

Conclusion

Revising the name of murder reduces its perceived gravity and in view of these new and disturbing technologies, the Church continues to teach us exactly how great is the value and dignity of the human person, in his totality, as a child made in God’s Image. The Pilgrims of St. Michael support and propagate these teachings, in order that man may realize his own worth and come to understand the truth behind the Church’s words: “The spread of technologies of intervention in the processes of human procreation raises very serious moral problems in relation to the respect due to the human being from the moment of conception, to the dignity of the person, of his or her sexuality and the transmission of life.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addresses an invitation with the confidence and encouragement to theologians, and above all to moralists, that they study more deeply and make ever more accessible to the faithful the contents of the teaching of the Church’s Megisterium in the light of a valid anthropology in the matter of sexuality and marriage and in the context of the necessary interdisciplinary approach. Thus they will make it possible to understand ever more clearly the reasons for the validity of this teaching. By defending man against the excesses of his own power, the Church of God reminds him of the reasons for his true nobility; only in this way can the possibility of living and loving with that dignity and liberty which derive from respect for the truth be ensured for the men and women of tomorrow. The precise indications which are offered in the present instruction, therefore, are not meant to halt the effort of reflection but rather to give it a renewed impulse in unrenounceable fidelity to the teaching of the Church.

“In the light of the truth about the gift of human life and in the light of the moral principles which flow from that truth, everyone is invited to act in the area of responsibility proper to each, and like the good Samaritan, to recognize as a neighbor even the littlest among the children of men. (cf. Lk. 10:29-37). Here Christ’s words find a new and particular echo: ‘What you do to one of the least of my brethren, you do unto me’ (Mt. 25:40).

Marie Anne Jacques

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