CLONING: A CATHOLIC MORAL EVALUATION
by Sr. Terese Auer, OSF
In order to understand what is at issue in the debate and how the
Catholic Church views the matter, we must first understand the procedure
used in cloning.
The first step was to gather the eggs (by laparoscopy) and sperm (by
masturbation) and to put them in contact with each other in a glass dish
("in vitro") for fertilization. Once fertilization occurred and the new
embryos began development by dividing into two cells, the scientists
intervened to separate the two cells, creating two different embryos with
the same genetic information (cloning). The process of dividing the
embryos required that researchers strip away the embryos' outer coating,
which is essential to development, and replace it with an artificial
The experiment was considered successful when the cloned embryos
began to grow and develop within the artificial coating. None of the 48
cloned embryos grew for more than six days, probably due in part to the
fact that the scientists had used abnormal embryos; that is, embryos which
came from eggs that had been fertilized by more than one sperm.
Because "in vitro" fertilization has been with us for almost 50 years
and the cloning of animals for over 40 years, the Church has already
offered clear teaching directing us morally with regard to reproductive
technology. In February of 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith issued "Donum Vitae," the Latin title for the "Instruction on
Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation."
In this document, the Church gives us the fundamental reasons why cloning
itself and the process of "in vitro" fertilization which it uses are
To understand these reasons, let us look again at the first steps of
the cloning process: fertilization in a dish. The guiding principle to
remember is that once fertilization occurs, the life of a new human being
has begun, and that life is sacred. It does not matter whether the embryos
are viable or not; each must be given the respect due to any other human
person (I, 4). In light of this, we know that it is wrong to produce human
beings in order to use them in scientific experimentation where they are
treated as nothing more than disposable "biological material" (I, 5). It
is also wrong to destroy voluntarily the "spare" embryos normally produced
through "in vitro" fertilization or in any way to impose disproportionate
risks upon the life of an embryo. In doing so, the researcher sets himself
up as Master of the destiny of the human embryo, deciding who will live
and who will die (II).
The actual cloning process of dividing the embryo so as to produce a
new human being is immoral because it opposes the dignity both of human
procreation and of the conjugal union (I, 6). When a human being is
brought into existence, that person has certain rights because of the fact
that he is a human being. One of these rights concerns the environment in
which he begins to exist: it must be a personal one. A laboratory dish
where technology dominates is not an environment worthy of a human being.
The only proper environment is the mother's womb (II, 1).
Another right that a human being has is that he be brought into
existence through a truly human or personal act. A human act is one which
is both physical and spiritual, since man himself is both. The conjugal
act is just such an act when the physical procreative process expresses
the spiritual love between the spouses. To separate the physical from the
spiritual is to act in an impersonal or inhuman way, thus degrading those
involved in the act: the couple as well as the newly conceived child. In
other words, to separate the biological process of procreation from the
spiritual act of spousal love is to degrade not only the couple involved
who are treated impersonally but also the new human being who is brought
forth in an impersonal way. This violates the child's right to be
conceived through a personal act of love between his parents. Instead of
objectively being the living image or fruit of his parents' love, the
child is reduced to "an object of scientific technology" (II, 4).
In light of how cloning degrades the human person, Pope John Paul's
challenge to us before he left America in 1987 bears all the more weight:
"If you want equal justice for all and true freedom and lasting peace,
then, America, defend life!... Every human person--no matter how
vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or old, no matter how healthy,
handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society--is a
being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This
is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her
survival--yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human
person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet
Let us heed the Pope's challenge and come to the defense of our
littlest brothers and sisters. For whatever we do for them, we do for
Jesus Himself (Mt. 25:40).
Sr. Terese Auer has a master and a doctorate degree in Thomistic
philosophy and has taught on elementary, high school, and college levels.
Article appeared in the January - February issue of "Spes Nostra",
531 East Merced Avenue, West Covina, CA 91790, a publication of the Father
Kobe Missionaries of the Immaculata.