Human Cloning: Part 2

Author: Roberto Colombo


Roberto Colombo
Pontifical Academy for Life

Cloning violates the ‘natural law’ of reason

The transposition of certain in vitro reproductive biotechnologies from veterinary to human medicine began 35 years ago with the first attempts at fertilization outside the body and the transfer of human embryos to a uterus. In the past decade this has been extended to techniques for the micro-engineering of gametes; nor, today, can we exclude the occurrence of reproduction without the contribution of the male germinal cell, already tested in certain types of animals through cloning.

Over and above the good intentions of many sterile couples and certain health-care workers — even Catholics — and the difficult or sad circumstances in which these interventions are sometimes requested and carried out, recourse to artificial reproductive techniques, even if they are homologous and in the context of marriage, are an objective degradation of the anthropological and moral quality of human procreation. The gap in the natural and essential correlation between love, sexuality and procreation that results from contraception has grown wider with the advent of gamete human artificial reproduction (in vitro fertilization); recently, with the possibility of agamete artificial reproduction (cloning), it has become the radical separation of the factors that constitute the man-woman and parent-child relationships.

At the same time, as a technique for both artificial reproduction and genetic engineering, cloning is a challenge to the anthropology of generations unprecedented in the history of humanity. Moreover, it poses a very grave moral and civil question about the respect for and preservation of life and the genetic heritage, as well as for the unborn child's psycho-physical integrity and relations with the family and society.

With the threatening prospects that cloning casts over the biological and anthropological roots of human life, "the Church cannot abandon man" who is her "primary and fundamental way" (Redemptor Hominis, n. 14). All people, particularly the weakest and most defenceless because they are exposed to manipulation and arbitrariness by others, are entrusted to the Church's motherly solicitude by virtue of the mystery of God's Incarnate Word (cf. Jn 1:4). Hence, the threat cloning poses to "human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15)" (Evangelium Vitae, n. 3).

Today there is a most urgent need to proclaim the incomparable dignity and value of human life, which distinguish it from the life of any other being and are at the root of the person's rights. This is not only because of recurring rumours that the birth of cloned babies has occurred or is imminent; it is first and foremost because of the dissemination of arguments aiming to justify recourse to the technique of cloning, at least for specific goals and in particular circumstances. Indeed, if the constant flow of press releases and denials causes dismay in public opinion, discredits the sponsors of human cloning research and increases the fear that it may really be achieved, the a-critical assimilation of ideas favourable to it — or even merely to some of its applications (such as the production of autologous embryonic stem cells) — weakens human reason's response to the possible surreptitious introduction into society of human clones. In addition, it fosters among legitimate institutions defending human life and dignity an atmosphere of cultural subordination to technological, economic or ideological projects that intend to promote their legalization.

On the contrary, the exercise of logical criticism on the part of all citizens must be encouraged. Catholics among them have the right and duty to intervene regarding some of the permissive cultural trends of human cloning and the erroneous anthropological and ethical theories that inspire them. The intervention of Catholics is an expression of responsibility to the civil community and its decisions, an indispensable contribution to social and political life in accordance with the concept of the person, the family and the common good that they deem just and true. Within the public bioethical debate, the legitimate plurality of positions that mirror different sensibilities and cultures demand solutions that firmly and coherently respect the rights of all, especially the weakest and the most defenceless. The search for these solutions, however, cannot be based upon "the relativistic idea that all concepts of the human person's good have the same value and truth", or on concepts that do not claim "the true and solid foundations of non-negotiable ethical principles" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, II, 1; ORE, 22 January 2003, p. 5).

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In the anthropological perspective, human cloning raises multiple and complex questions. They can be found in the numerous texts and debates available today. They range from the identity and status of the agamogenetic embryo (originating in the transfer of a diploid nucleus to a new oocite whose nucleus has previously been removed), to the reduction of the constitutive sexual difference and complementarity to a mereasymmetrical functionalism of a cytogenic (ooplast: female; karyoplast: male/female) and physiological function (uterus: female); from the perversion of the fundamental relations of the human person (filiation, blood-relationship, parenthood, kinship) to the relationship between. the predetermination of the genetic nuclear heritage and resemblance to another human being, alive or dead (identity/biological and psychological difference); from the eugenic project for controlling, selecting and splitting the human heritage, to the reduction of the anthropological value based on personal identity to the purely biological value, estimated according to the somatic and psychological qualities; from the failure to recognize that man is far more than his psycho-somatic dimension to the idea of the total domination of another person's existence and the orientation of human life to a medical, ideological, political or religious goal.

These and other anthropological issues of a rational nature find acceptance and appreciation even in a Christian vision of human life; and some have been discussed in other contexts (cf. Pontifical Academy for Life, Reflessioni sulla Clonazione, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997; J. Vial Correa and E. Sgreccia, Cellule Staminale UmaneAutologhe e Trasferimento di Nucleo, in: L'Osservatore Romano, 5 January 2001, p. 6). The Church is aware that she brings an "experience of humanity" and safeguards a tradition of anthropological reflection in light of Revelation, which can help even nonbelievers in their discovery of the deepest meaning of human life and its transmission; these can also foster a deeper understanding of the reasons of those opposed to human cloning. In this context, it is appropriate to consider the two aspects of procreation which demonstrate unquestionably that any technique other than full sexual relations between a man and a woman that permits the generation of a human person is unacceptable, since it is diametrically opposed to the personal life and dignity of human beings.

The first aspect of procreation can be surmised from John Paul II's concise words: "The genealogy of the person is inscribed in the very biology of generation" (Letter to Families, Gratissimam Sane, n. 9). Cloning, as a process of "artificial" reproduction that relies on asexual methods, offers a radical alternative to sexual generation that belongs to "natural" human biology.

However, the "unnatural" or "artificial" character of cloning does not make it an anthropological issue (some medical and surgical interventions, accepted today without reserve, repair or even substitute the patient's physiological functions in accordance with a biophysical or biochemical process other than the natural one). The problem with cloning is that it destroys the anthropological bond that links sexual generation to the genealogy of the person. Human fatherhood and motherhood are rooted in the biology of sexual generation; yet at the same time they transcend it, for the child's existence as a person — like that of the parents — refers to a creative act of God who has impressed his own "image and likeness" upon the person conceived (cf. Gn 1:26). "God 'wills' man as a being similar to himself, as a person". Therefore, "man's coming into being does not conform to the laws of biology alone, but also and directly to God's creative will" (ibid.). Begetting is the continuation of creation (cf. Pius XII, Humani Generis), and the order of creation establishes that of procreation.

In this sense and in no other can we understand that human cloning violates a "natural law": not because it breaks a biological "law of nature" — which has no immediate normative importance since it is extrinsic to the human conscience — but because it violates a "natural law" of reason (ordinatio rationis) which is innate in the conscience of every man and woman and enables them to partake in the order of divine Providence (cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 91, a. 2), which orders the child's genealogy.

A second aspect of the procreative act that stresses how radically foreign cloning is to an integral anthropological concept of humanity in its twofold male and female unity, is constituted by the original encounter of love, sexuality and procreation (cf. A. Scola, Il Mistero Nuziale. 1: Uoma-donna, Pontifical Lateran University, Mursia, 1998). This encounter defines the human quality of begetting and being begotten, and shows the objective inadequacy for human dignity of every form of generation that is not the conclusion and result of a conjugal act. By separating the unitive meaning from the procreative meaning of the conjugal act, contraception as well as artificial fertilization have already severed the connection between sexuality and procreation, rationally acquired through the experience of conjugal love (cf. Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, n. 12; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Vitae, II, n. 4).

Some people wonder whether freeing procreation from any residual naturalistic conditioning (to the point of obliterating the biological connection that binds conception to the fusion of two heterosexual germinal cells), would open human love to full freedom, while allowing a better medical and eugenic control of generation and a more conscious assumption of responsibility with regard to the children's life and welfare. The cultural roots of this false reasoning are found in the rejection, widespread today, of a matter concerning the (ontological) foundation of the triad: sexuality, love and procreation, and in the severance of every bond of freedom with the truth, an indispensable condition for its achievement (cf. Jn 8:32).

It is easy to show, however, that a de facto state of affairs, no matter how widespread and accepted it may be, changes neither the order nor the objective meaning of the factors at stake in the reality of human generation. Instead, it establishes a task and a responsibility for all: love must be freely chosen in its truth, and this requires sexuality and procreation to be recomposed in their original unity and not separated further by agamic reproduction. "Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery" (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 90)

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The reasons why the inappropriately named "therapeutic" human cloning is morally illicit have already been examined (cf. Pontifical Academy for Life, Dichiarazione sulla Produzione e sull'Uso Scientifico e Terapeutico delle Cellule Staminali Embrionali Umane, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000; J. Vial Correa and E. Sgreccia, op. cit.), and recourse to this process to obtain autologous embryonic stem cells has been banned by the Holy Father, who pointed to the "use of stem cells taken from adults" as the direction "research must follow if it wishes to respect the dignity of each and every human being, even at the embryonic stage" (Address to the 18th International Congress of the Transplantation Society, 29 August 2000; ORE, 30 August 2000, p. 2). Moreover, the mere fact of the death of the embryo as a consequence of removing its internal cellular mass when it has reached the blastocyte stage qualifies as illegitimate the very act of cloning that generated it a-sexually especially for this purpose, dispensing with the consideration of the genus moris of cloning: the presence of an evil end in every case corrupts the action (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1755).

Cloning for the purpose of inducing childbirth (so-called "reproductive") is not part of a plan to exploit or destroy the human being intentionally, but provides for the acceptance of the cloned embryo in the maternal womb and its intrauterine development. In this context, the act of cloning no longer seems a premeditated crime against human life and takes on the character of an extreme and exceptional form of artificial reproduction.

Analogously to what occurred for the technique of in vitro human fertilization, the opinion is making headway — even among certain specialists and members of consultative committees — that the serious moral questions raised by human cloning are not due to the act of cloning for itself and in itself but are dependent on the purpose for which the cloning is carried out and on the foreseeable consequences for those involved (the clone, the donors of the nuclear genome and the oocite, the family and society). In particular, this position stresses that the main predictable negative consequences — abnormalities in the organism of the cloned person, cognitive and/or behaviorial disorders, discrimination and other forms of social injustice — are linked to contingent factors, the lack of which would necessitate a revision of the moral code on human cloning for the birth of children.

The first factor is connected with the currently limited biological knowledge of the processes of genetic programming and epigenesis subsequent to the nuclear transfer, and with the imperfection of techniques for removing the nucleus from the oocite and the transfer itself.

The second factor has to do with creating a collective image which, by improperly representing the biological and psychological characteristics of the clone, would lead to an irrational demand for cloning and a negative acceptance by certain members of society of the first cloned children, thus exposing them to the risk of discrimination and injustices; or it refers to a "conservative" culture of the family and the traditional parental and social relations, linked to a triadic vision of human generation and an exclusively heterosexual concept of begetting that would stand in the way of the social acceptance of an emotional and educational environment of an "alternative" kind for the growth of the cloned child. In this perspective, the rejection of human cloning might be founded solely on the "principle of precaution", and in this light have a merely temporary character.

It would thus be impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its "object" — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the act's foreseeable consequences for all persons concerned (cf. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 79). The theory that links certain instances of consequentialist or proportionalist ethics fails to consider that the morality of a human act "depends primarily and fundamentally on the 'object' rationally chosen by the deliberate will" of the person acting (ibid., n. 78), and that objectives for the human act have been set that are "unworthy of the human person", since they are opposed to his integral good. The Second Vatican Council includes among these acts all "offences against life itself", and "all violations of the integrity of the human person" that are "against human dignity" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 27). How could human cloning not be an act that is an offence against life and the integrity and dignity of the human person?

As compared with so-called "therapeutic" cloning, which can be morally classified as a crime against life since it involves "the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being" (Evangelium Vitae, n. 57) in the early stages of life, some consider that cloning geared to the birth of children cannot be contrary to human life because it responds to a "demand (or need) for generation" that is born from the "desire for a child" whose life can begin thanks to the process of nuclear transfer and reprogramming. "To desire a child" and to offer one's own scientific and medical work to "grant this desire" is a "service to life" and not "an attack on human life", some maintain, and as such, cloning, ignoring the negative consequences on the survival and development of the cloned embryo, cannot be intrinsically evil. The arguments for the plausibility of a biotechnological response to the "desire for a child", expressed in a "request for cloning" as a condition for granting it in specific clinical or personal circumstances, requires attentive evaluation. This is not because it is new (the topic is already present in the area of artificial fertilization and other biomedical interventions in the field of sexuality and procreation), but because of its allusive and persuasive character regarding a certain culture of family and social relations that exalts passions or feelings and belittles rational reflection of an anthropological and ethical kind.

In this context, it is first necessary to highlight the contradictory quality intrinsic in the decision to give birth to a child through the cloning process. Anyone who desires a child and strives to obtain one (with or without the help of biomedical technology), claims that this desire is good. And those who cooperate to enable this desire to be fulfilled, do so on the grounds that the desire for a child expressed by those who want one is a good.

However, the goodness of a desire does not consist in the desire for it as such (not all desires are "good"), but in what is desired and in its relationship with the person who desires it. The object of the desire must be a good in itself and must constitute a good for the person desiring it, that is, it must be honestly desired. Good alone can be loved (cf. St Augustine, De Trinitate, 8, 3, 4). "[Human] life is always a good in itself" (EvangeliumVitae, n. 34), and man "is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for his own sake" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 24). Consequently a child's life is a good independent of the parents' wishes or of anyone's desires: for the sole fact that he exists and as such, since (unpredictably) he exists, each person exists "for his own sake". The object of a justifiable desire for a child can be none other than the child himself as God "wills him", and this is his creative "will, which is concerned with the genealogy of the sons and daughters of the human family" (Gratissimam Sane, n. 9).

Cloning contradicts the unconditional recognition of human life as a good in itself and the unconditional dedication of parents to welcoming it. Making one's existence dependent upon the desires or causal will of another person or conditioning his life in line with a eugenic project, means submitting man to a human power and creates an inequality by virtue of the fact that some can dispose of the life of others (cf. M. Rhonheimer, Etica delta Procreazione, Pontifical Lateran University, Mursia, 2000). The same injustice is also at the root of various crimes against human life such as abortion, although its preestablished purpose may be quite the opposite: just as not wanting a child does not justify killing him, the desire for one does not justify his production.

"In his unique and irrepeatable origin, the child must be respected and recognized as equal in personal dignity to those who give him life.... He cannot be desired or conceived as the product of an intervention of medical or biological techniques; that would be equivalent to reducing him to an object of scientific technology" (Donum Vitae, II, n. 4). To counter this temptation, it is essential that contemporary man regain the awareness that he belongs to the Mystery of God's being: "Only by admitting his innate dependence can man live and use his freedom to the full, and at the same time respect the life and freedom of every other person" (Evangelium Vitae, n. 9).

See Part 3.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
17 September 2003, page 9

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