On Human Cloning

Author: Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo



Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family


Cloning: the disappearance of direct parenthood and denial of the family

The Pontifical Council for the Family considers every attempt to clarify the challenge human cloning represents to be appropriate, aware of the importance of this issue and with a view to the imminent resumption of work to draw up an International Convention against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings by the United Nations Organization. It is a question of contributing to a satisfactory presentation of the problem, of pointing out the negative ethical aspects and meanings of human cloning which are contrary to the dignity of the person and the family.1 This is the aim of this presentation, which attempts to set out some aspects of cloning to inform the general public.

For several decades now, a whole series of biological techniques have been continuously developing. Their application to human procreation has surfaced many ethical problems and increasingly points to the need for an integral anthropology of the human being and a renewed approach to the role of the family for humanity. In particular, recent attempts to clone a human being have raised fundamental questions regarding the family: what it means to be parents and to be a child, the dignity of the human embryo, and the truth and meaning of human sexuality. Today, the slow and subtle dissociation taking place between the concepts of human life and that of the family, which actually is the natural place where life originates and develops, is one of the most nefarious consequences of the culture of death.

Indeed, as the Instruction Donum Vitae, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, affirms: "The human person must be accepted in his parents' act of union and love; the generation of a child must therefore be the fruit of that mutual giving which is realized in the conjugal act, wherein the spouses cooperate as servants and not as masters in the work of the Creator who is Love. In reality, the origin of a human person is the result of an act of giving. The one conceived must be the fruit of his parents' love. 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".2

The troubling possibility of the cloning of human beings for "reproductive" purposes through the technical substitution of responsible procreation is contrary to the dignity of sonship. Even more troubling are the pressing demands of groups of researchers for the legalization of cloning in order to subject the human embryos "produced" to manipulation and experimentation, and subsequently to destroy them. This state of affairs highlights a serious deterioration, both in the recognition of the dignity of life and of human procreation and in the knowledge of the irreplaceable and fundamental role and value of the family, not only for the individual but for all humanity.

1. Cloning, a possibility open to modern biology

The term "cloning" refers to the technique used frequently in biology to reproduce cells and micro-organisms, both vegetable and animal, and, more recently, to reproduce the sequences of genetic information contained in biological material, such as fragments of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which contain a wide range of codified nuclear genetic information. It is necessary to complete this description with a more exact definition of the cloning technique in order to gain a more adequate knowledge of its nature.

Regarding its purposes, cloning is a technical procedure of reproduction through which the genetic material of a cell or organism (vegetable or animal) is manipulated in order to obtain an individual or a colony of individuals, each one identical to the first. What distinguishes cloning from other similar techniques is that in cloning, reproduction takes place without sexual union (asexual), and without fertilization or the union of the gametes (agametic); it results in a group of individuals biologically identical to the donor who provided the nuclear genetic heritage.

The individuals obtained by cloning are called clones, a term used to indicate that each and every one has the same genetic information; they are not, therefore, descendents only from their progenitor (that is, there has been no genetic sexual combination of their progenitors).3 This is consequently a type of reproduction that can artificially replace — in the animal species (of sexual reproduction) — natural fertilization or the union of gametes (the cells through which reproduction naturally occurs), with the resulting advantages, defects and dangers.

Taking its technical realization into consideration, "cloning" in the strictest sense, on the basis of the prospect of the procedure used, means reproduction obtained through so-called "nuclear transfer".4 When scientists allude to cloning in the strict sense of the term, they usually identify it with nuclear transfer: "Fertilization properly so-called is replaced by the 'fusion' of a nucleus taken from a somatic cell of the individual one wishes to clone, or from the somatic cell itself, with an oocyte from which the nucleus has been removed, that is, an oocyte lacking the maternal genome. Since the nucleus of the somatic cell contains the whole genetic inheritance, the individual obtained possesses — except for possible alterations — the genetic identity of the nucleus' donor. It is this essential genetic correspondence with the donor that produces in the new individual the somatic replica or copy of the donor itself”.5

Also known as "cloning" (or "semi-cloning" or other such terms) are broader and less appropriate techniques of asexual and agametic reproduction that in some ways resemble nuclear transfer, especially because of the results they obtain: a genetically identical descendence. These include techniques such as artificial parthenogenesis6 or embryonic fission.7

There are no particular ethical objections to cloning non-human specimens (to obtain offspring from them) and biological material (for various uses) if it is responsibly carried out, just as there are no ethical objections to the traditional and sometimes ancient horticultural practices that used this sort of technique which, moreover, has considerable advantages. The use of cloning in zoology would undoubtedly bring great benefits. Improvements, for example, in the reproduction of domestic animals, a reduction in the production costs of certain types of meat, the possible application of cloning to save species from becoming extinct, progress in the conditions of experimentation and research in pharmacology, all make it advisable to continue research by applying cloning techniques to animal species.

In spite of this, it must be pointed out that these techniques are still in the trial stage and their results must be carefully assessed. Could they have unforeseen consequences in the future? Could they, for example, produce dangerous genetic malformations, today unknown or insufficiently known? To what extent might these involve alterations to the ecology in the medium or long term? Could uncontrolled recourse to cloning lead to unleashing new diseases and malformations?

2. Human ‘reproductive’ or ‘therapeutic’ cloning

By now it is common knowledge that attempts are being made to apply cloning to "produce" human beings, to use them in research and eventually, in medical treatment. The mass media, science fiction and a certain type of popular literature have contributed to raising false expectations about cloning, given its actual technical possibilities. Despite this, however, it is certain that (more or less scientifically exact) investigations and hypotheses have been advanced that aim to apply cloning experiments to the human being. Recently, this fact has caught the attention of public authorities worldwide, as well as of those charged with a special responsibility for the common good.

Two facets of the problem of cloning human embryos, as it appears today, have acquired a special prominence: "reproductive" cloning and "therapeutic" cloning (or for the purpose of scientific research). The difference between the two is seen in the purpose for which the cloning is intended: the complete development of an embryo through implantation in the uterus is the goal of "reproductive" cloning, whereas "therapeutic" cloning requires the use of the embryo in its pre-implantation stage in research for therapeutic ends. Therefore, the purposes of cloning would be:

1. To obtain human offspring and to plan a more effective technique for assisted procreation, with greater and better possibilities of application for certain couples ("reproductive" cloning).

2. To obtain, through this technique, what are known as "synthetic" embryos or "cell clusters" (in its earliest stages, every cell of the human embryo is totipotent8 or multipotent9), and hence to extract stem cells10 without the implantation of the embryo in the maternal uterus. The stem cells extracted, properly checked, have the potential to develop into specific cells: nerve, cardiac, muscle, liver cells, etc. ("therapeutic" cloning or cloning for the purposes of scientific research).

3. Toward the simultaneous global prohibition of all human cloning?

It is obvious that the application of science to the area of human procreation concerns all society, and not solely the scientific community. Thus, it was not long before work began on drafting legislation in which, without coercing the legitimate development of science, the ethical and legal boundaries of its application would be defined once and for all and the possible cloning of human beings forbidden. In recent years, laws have been passed in some countries in which human "reproductive" cloning is strictly forbidden, while research on human cloning has so far been permitted, on condition that it is intended for research and therapeutic use (as in the United Kingdom). In other countries, instead, every kind of cloning has been banned (Germany), or parliamentary bills have been introduced with a view to prohibit any type of cloning (United States).11 Concern about this topic is undoubtedly growing and efforts have been redoubled to obtain the prohibition of human cloning, not only at a national level but also through the instruments of international law.

What prompted this debate was the determination to forbid human reproductive cloning. Since 1993, the International Bioethics Committee12 has been involved in the issue. The General Conference of UNESCO approved a "Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights", later adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1998, which states that cloning for reproductive purposes is contrary to human dignity.13

The 56th General Assembly of the United Nations (12 December 2001) decided to set up a Committee that would carry its work even further, to introduce the ban on cloning through an international legal instrument and, specifically, an international Convention.14 At first, only a prohibition of reproductive cloning was considered. In August 2001, Germany and France asked Mr Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, for a project that would forbid it everywhere in the world. By the end of 2001, reproductive cloning was prohibited in 24 countries, including Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, India, Japan, Brazil and South Africa.

Recent developments in the international situation and the initiative of certain countries in favour not only of the prohibition of reproductive cloning (the proposal of a partial ban), but of a simultaneous global prohibition of cloning both for purposes of reproduction and for research and therapy (the proposal of a total ban), represent a significant change in the work underway for an International Convention against cloning.

Particularly important in this regard are: the United States law of 27 February 2003 that totally forbids cloning (currently under examination by the Senate); the resolution of the German Bundestag of 7 February 2003, to promote international initiatives to prohibit it completely (not only partially, as has so far been the case); the French project of 30 January 2003, for a reform of the law on biomedicine that will ban it totally (which is still being debated); and the request for its total ban by the European Parliament on 10 April 2003 (currently being examined by the European Commission). All these recent initiatives aim to ban cloning completely, and not merely reproductive cloning. Today this international atmosphere, different from that of a few years ago, is now reinforced by an initiative that the United States and Spain have sponsored and presented to the United Nations. Its goal is an international Convention that will put a total ban on all cloning.15

There are precedents of international instruments that have targeted this prohibition. In the context of the Council of Europe, after the Paris Accord (12 January 1997), work began on an anticloning Convention. The European Parliament accepted and adopted the project of the Council of Europe for an "explicit prohibition of every form of human cloning", and in the meantime, it has asked "researchers and doctors participating in research on the human genome under no circumstances to intervene in the cloning of human beings before a legally binding prohibition of it comes into force".16 The European Convention on Human Rights and Biotechnology, also known as the "Oviedo Convention", and the additional Protocol on the prohibition of cloning human beings was the result of this work and specifically forbade "the production of human embryos for research purposes" (Art. 18.1). Thus, the ratification of the Oviedo Convention, by certain European States had already begun in 1999.

The European Parliament issued another declaration on 22 November 2001 in favour of the prohibition of every type of human cloning, this time throughout the world. This was an amendment to a report on biotechnology in which the Parliament "insistently repeats that there must be a universal and specific prohibition, at the level of the United Nations, on the cloning of human beings at any stage in their growth or development". The Parliament then invited the European Commission and the member States of the European Parliament to continue in this direction. In both April 2002 and February 2003, the votes of legislators showed that they were in favour of a ban on cloning for the purpose of extracting stem cells from the embryo. The Bundestag (February 2003) asked the German Government to change Germany's position at the United Nations by opting for the total ban of cloning because it represents an assault on human dignity, given that there is no substantial moral distinction between reproductive and therapeutic cloning, which both result in the creation of living human embryos.

4. Why is human cloning, reproductive or therapeutic, ethically unacceptable?

Concern about the possibility of human cloning is well justified and there are very serious reasons for it. The various attempts to introduce an overall, simultaneous ban on cloning throughout the world is a response to this concern. Despite the great interest shown in the realization of these projects and the expectations they have given rise to in large circles (scientists, groups of sick people hoping for new therapeutic resources, professional associations, etc.), some of which, it must be said, are more realistic than others, it would be irresponsible not to weigh carefully the objections to cloning that are backed by technical and ethical considerations and profound anthropological reasoning.

1. Reproductive cloning

With regard to attempts to clone a human being for reproductive purposes, the foreseeable scientific obstacles are very serious, to the point that many experts have expressed strong doubts as to the actual viability of a truly scientific project in this regard. Despite the recent, more or less sensational announcements by the mass media, for the time being there is no real, scientifically valid proof that shows beyond all doubt that these attempts would be successful. Moreover, even were such attempts likely to be successful in the future, consideration must be given to the very grave risk of illnesses, genetic defects or monstrosities for which those who produced them would be responsible.

For example, the nuclear transfer technique has so far not led to any results other than a vast quantity of embryos unable to develop correctly.17 On rare occasions when birth is obtained, the animals are frequently afflicted with diseases and sometimes with various monstrous malformations, so that their premature death is quite common.18 This seems to be due to defects in the genetic "reprogramming" of the nuclear transfer. It is clear that in these conditions cloning for "reproductive" purposes must not be applied to the human species because of the serious risk it would involve and the very high mortality rate it entails.19

If the immorality of reproductive cloning is predetermined by the actual technical circumstances, the ethical obstacles to human reproductive cloning are in themselves insurmountable and glaringly at variance with the common moral sense of humanity.20

Already in the 1980s the philosopher Hans Jonas addressed the ethical problems that the eventual cloning of a human person would pose. Cloning would mean the loss of what Jonas calls the "right of ignorance", that is, the subjective right to know that one person is not the replica of another, and a person's right not to know anything about his future development (such as, for example, future illnesses, psychological development, the foreseeable moment of natural death, etc.). As Jonas says, this "ignorance" is in a certain sense a "condition for the possibility" of human freedom, and to encroach upon it would mean placing an enormous burden on the individual's autonomy. The human clone would be brutally conditioned by knowing that he was a copy of another person, because uncertainty is an essential ingredient of the human effort to choose freely.

Without the responsibility of uncertainty, according to Jonas, the clone would foresee his every move, his own illnesses, and correct his future psychological attitudes in an unremitting, hopeless effort to separate himself from his "original", who would always be an omnipresent shadow and model, and the track he would be forced to follow or to avoid. "Being a copy" would become part and parcel of his own identity, his own being and his own conscience. Thus, a wound would be inflicted on the human right to live one's life as an original and unique discovery, basically, a discovery of themselves.21 As a result, the clone's way through life would become the burdensome implementation of an inhuman and alienating "programme of control". Thus, Jonas considers the cloning "method" to be "the most tyrannical and at the same time enslaving form of genetic manipulation; its goal is not the arbitrary modification of all that is inherited but, precisely, its arbitrary establishment, which is at odds with the strategy that prevails in


The risk of a eugenic use of cloning (both reproductive and therapeutic), in order to "improve" the race or to select personal characteristics deemed "superior" to others, is not (despite the assertions of its supporters) a very distant possibility.

In the Resolution on cloning of 12 March 1997, the European Parliament declared that it was "firmly convinced that no society can justify or tolerate the cloning of human beings under any circumstances: neither for experimental purposes, nor in the treatment of infertility, nor in diagnosis prior to tissue implantation or transplantation, nor for any other purpose, since it constitutes a grave violation of the fundamental human rights and denies the principle of the equality of human beings by permitting a eugenic and racist selection of the human species; it is an offence to the dignity of the person, and furthermore requires experimentation on human beings (§B). In a second Resolution on cloning of 15 January 1998, the European Parliament, in requesting the prohibition of human cloning by way of experimentation for diagnosis "or for any other purpose", even describes cloning as "anti-ethical" and "morally repugnant" (§B).

2. Therapeutic cloning

Advocates of the therapeutic cloning of human beings often describe it as a breakthrough that would benefit genetic therapy as a remedy for diseases thus far beyond the scope of medicine. However, these possible (and disputable) positive consequences do not basically change the moral character of cloning in itself. There is a close objective continuity between reproductive and therapeutic cloning. In both, a human embryo is "produced", but therapeutic cloning envisions its subsequent destruction in the extraction of embryonic stem cells or biological material for use in treatment.

Ample uncertainty continues to surround the technical aspects of therapeutic cloning. On the one hand, people are saying that cloning would be a source of embryonic stem cells (which, since they are not differentiated, and because of their greater "plasticity", would be interesting from the biological point of view). However, people do not always take sufficiently into account the precarious condition of the cloned embryo and the high probability of producing various neoplasias (cancers and tumours) in the candidate for treatment into whom the cells would be introduced. This is why many researchers suggest that research into adult stem cells might lead to greater success, without the ethical limitations that the use of embryonic stem cells involves.23

On the other hand, it is also necessary to consider the considerable practical difficulties that the immunological rejection of these embryonic stem cells would create. These problems further weaken the argument of those who claim that human cloning can justifiably be used in such research. To get round the immunological rejection of embryonic stem cells by cloning of an embryo implies exploiting the human embryo to the full. As Elisabeth Monfort underlines, "The use of embryonic stem cells necessarily involves the technique of therapeutic cloning to prevent tissue rejection. To refuse cloning and accept the use of embryonic stem cells... is an irresponsible and even hypocritical stance that is certainly intended to reassure those who still have doubts" .24

Therapeutic cloning to obtain stem cells not only implies the production of an embryo, but also its manipulation and subsequent destruction. It is unacceptable to consider a human being, at any stage of his development, as a store of spare "material" or a source of tissue and organs, like "spare parts". The moral complexity of cloning can be better understood if we take into account that what it would produce, manipulate and destroy are not "things", but human beings like us. One way of facing this issue would be to put ourselves in the shoes not of the scientists who produce the clones, but of the embryo (which is what we too once were). Surely we would not want to enter the world in a laboratory rather than as the offspring of our parents' union. Nor would it be acceptable to be the sole survivor among tens or hundreds of our twin brothers or sisters, discarded as "defective". It would be even less agreeable to be engineered in order to produce "parts" that another needs at a later date (kidneys, for example); or to die after this short and painful birth that was "produced" precisely for this end.

Of course, the use of stem cells for cell therapy could pave the way to a whole series of beneficial types of research that today offer very interesting prospects; but the use of embryonic stem cells for this goal (and, consequently, of therapeutic cloning to obtain them), has proven to be a scientific process that is unreliable, difficult and ethically unacceptable. On the other hand, when research on adult stem cells, satisfactory both from the ethical and technical viewpoints, is carried out in a dignified and responsible way and subjected to ethical criteria, it represents the way forward and a future of hope that raises no special ethical objections.25

3. Technical, ethical and anthropological objections to human cloning

Certain arguments that make it possible to go more deeply into the rational reasons of the immorality of cloning, show the ethical continuity between "reproductive" and "therapeutic" cloning. A deep complementarity links these arguments since they develop various rational, ethical aspects that derive from the ontological dignity of the human embryo, as they are interconnected with one another and with the anthropological and ethical status of the embryo, which must be the starting point in the whole complex issue.26

a. Irrefutable probability of the human character of the embryos obtained

Procuring human embryos for cloning, either for reproduction or for therapy and research, would imply destroying a large number of them. For example, in order to obtain Dolly the sheep, hundreds of embryos were "wasted". And this is not all: the high risk of transmitting diseases or malformations that this technique would involve are an additional reason. This is especially true with regard to "therapeutic" cloning. Hence, it is obvious that the harvesting of embryonic stem cells necessarily passes through the production (and subsequent destruction) of an embryo, which many researchers themselves no longer insist on defining as an "accumulation of cells", a term coined to avoid the anthropological and consequently ethical question posed by the embryo. In fact, researchers acknowledge that these techniques begin by producing what they call "early embryo", that is, an embryo in its initial state. But then a question arises: what is this embryo? What would its ethical and juridical status be? The question points to another that is inherent in it: what is the status of every human embryo?

The assertion that the human being must be respected and treated as a person from the very moment of conception is vital to a correct explanation of the problem of the identity and status of the human embryo. "The formulation in these terms of the fundamental ethical duty to the unborn child has become vitally necessary, because of the problems raised by biotechnological development".27

The expression "pre-embryo" was used precisely to avoid the fundamental anthropological and ethical question concerning the status of the embryo.28 "The problem", people say, "is that the embryo in its initial phase has no individuality or identity since, being formed of totipotent cells, one or more human individuals cannot yet be identified in it". But let us use our reason. The embryo (we are referring to the so-called "pre-embryo"), is a being. By this word "being" we mean an existing, living reality susceptible of its own biological development, differentiated and autonomous (it possesses in itself the capacity for growth) as regards the adequate and necessary means for its subsistence and for "nourishing" its own autonomous development. In addition, and in particular, it develops for its own sake, without having any "role" external to its own life. A cell is not an individual being because it functions as a part of a whole; its development is part of the development of the whole of which it forms a part. On the other hand, the embryo is not part of any whole, it is not fundamental to the (biological) life of the mother; if we "reproduce" embryos in the laboratory, as such they have no "use" unless we plant them in a female uterus to continue the biological cycle that leads to their birth or, for this same purpose, unless they spend the whole of the gestation period in the laboratory — although it is true that with time, since they have not been implanted, they will be "rejected", "destroyed" or simply "killed", terms that in this case are synonymous.29

In fact, if the question regarding the embryo is anthropologically and ethically precise, it must also be said that from the ethical viewpoint, there is a basic question that is very important for ethics: what isn't it? in other words: can we be certain that the embryo thus generated is not human? From the moral viewpoint, the admission alone of the probability (that none of the current studies has been able to deny) that we have before us a human being, a product of the cloning technique, has crucial weight. It is obvious that someone looking at a shadow who is unsure whether it is an animal or a man and who fires a shot, is guilty of murder. Before firing, he is morally and strictly bound to make sure that it is not a person. This ethical principle seems to have been infringed in these practices in which the harvesting of human embryonic stem cells must necessarily pass through the creation and destruction of an embryo in the first phases of its life.

b. The dignity of the human embryo

The result of fertilization is a new totipotent, unicellular biological individual called a "zygote". It must be recognized that cloning has exactly the same result as that of fertilization. There are no grounds for asserting, in spite of genetic abnormalities, that cloning does not produce a zygote. It is then necessary to establish a close analogy between fertilization and cloning. It should also be noted that there is no rational reason to deny to embryos obtained through cloning the same rights as those to which embryos obtained through the process of artificial fertilization are entitled, and therefore, even more justifiably, to which all embryos begotten through the natural process of human fertilization are entitled. What, for example, would be the essential difference between them, given the totipotentiality of their cell makeup that is not disputed by anyone?

The development of the embryo is the first stage of the human individual. Father Angelo Serra considers the three main properties that characterize the human epigenetic process, which, according to C.H. Waddington, can be described as "the continuous emergence of a form of preceding stages": in other words: 1) coordination. "Embryonic development, from the fusion of the gametes or 'syngamy', until the appearance of the embryonic disk at or after 14 days, is a process that manifests a coordinated sequence and the interaction of molecular and cellular activity, under the control of the new genome". This property requires the rigorous unity of the subject that is developing. It is not a cluster of cells but a real individual. 2) Continuity. Syngamy30 begins to a new cycle of life. "Everything would indicate that an uninterrupted and gradual differentiation of a very specific human individual takes place, according to a single, rigorously defined programme that begins at the zygote stage". This quality of continuity implies and establishes the unicity or uniqueness of the new human being. 3) Gradualness. The final form must be reached gradually. This growth is permanently oriented from the zygote stage to the final form because of an intrinsic epigenetic law. Every human embryo keeps its own identity, individuality and unity. The living embryo that originates in the fusion of the gametes is not a mere accumulation of available cells, but a real, developing human individual. Yes, from that instant it is a child! The embryo is a human individual. The abusive introduction of the term pre-embryo was a trick to pacify consciences and allow experimentation until the end of the stage of implantation, that is, in the human species, about 14 days after fertilization has taken place. Thus, the convenient conclusion has been that the embryo would not exist for the first two weeks following fertilization.31

c. The embryo has human dignity, even when it consists of only one cell

The refusal, therefore, to recognize the human condition of the embryo obtained through cloning (whether for reproductive purposes or to obtain embryonic stem cells from it) in the first days of its development is part of the discussion on the human embryo's anthropological and ethical status. These embryos are denied their individual character and it is said that they have no "human life". This is a contradiction. If we are dealing with embryos and not merely "oocytes that have divided" (and are on their way to extinction), then they are human individuals, endowed with human life, and not "clusters" of cells. The researcher I. Wilmut (famous for obtaining Dolly, the first cloned sheep; today he is a determined opponent of the reproductive cloning of humans, but clearly favours cloning for therapeutic purposes), recognizes that "when an embryo is created, an automatic-pilot takes over its initial development". If the embryo were the "cluster of cells", as some say it is, it would not be its own "automatic-pilot", it would have no autonomy nor a unitary teleology of its own that it clearly demonstrates it possesses.

From the moment of its conception, in fertilization, the embryo shows that it is an autonomous entity that immediately begins developing and grows gradually, continuously and harmoniously; and the constant teleological integration and cooperation of all its cells is part of this growth. It is an organism that develops, without interruption, in accordance with the programme outlined in its genome. Thus, without any outside intervention it becomes in succession a zygote, morula, blastocyst, an implanted embryo, a fetus, a child, an adolescent and an adult.32 If this happens in natural fertilization, why would not the same thing happen in cloning?

This point presents a contradiction since it refuses to recognize that the result of cloning is equivalent to the result of fertilization. This distinction (cloned-embryo; fertilized-embryo) that refers back to the false distinction between the so-called "pre-embryo" and the embryo, an erroneous distinction as mentioned earlier, has become in practice the greatest obstacle to the acknowledgment that an embryo has human status.33 If the cloned human embryo were not human, then "what" would it be? To what animal species would it belong? Would it possess a human genome but not be human? It is not necessary to insist here on the contradictions implied in these denials. A human embryo, thus recognized by reason as a human individual endowed with an organism of its own, has its own proper dignity and therefore deserves respect. This "dignity" is not due to some external addition, but is inherent in its being, in itself and for itself.

If people refuse to admit that the embryo has human dignity under the pretext that it possesses no actual consciousness, then the dignity of people who are asleep or in a coma should also be denied. If the dignity of the embryo is rejected, then one could also deny the dignity of the child.34

The human being, whatever his financial, physical or intellectual condition, cannot be used as a means or an object. The subtle offence to this fundamental principle is aggravated when this human being is powerless to defend himself against an unjust aggressor. If a person agrees to treat a human being as a means and not as an end, he himself must one day agree to be treated in the same way. Nor should he protest. Even if the therapeutic application of stem cells obtained through the creation and destruction of human embryos were to be clearly demonstrated (something that has not been done), morals, common sense and sound judgment would be opposed to it: one cannot do evil for a good end. The end does not justify the means. The history of humanity is rich in teaching on this subject. As the philosopher J. Santayana said: "Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it".

d. Personality of the embryo

The moral evaluation of human cloning, therefore, depends essentially on its goal or objective and does not primarily stem from the subjective intention for which these techniques are used. The very uncertainty as to the human nature of the product of these techniques suffices to make it a duty not to produce it. However, over and above the strict moral duty not to produce it, there are many serious reasons for holding not only that embryos obtained in this way should be duly respected as befits their human dignity, but also that they are human persons who are first manipulated and then destroyed.

e. Inhumanity in the production and consequent destruction of embryos created by cell nuclear replacement (so-called "therapeutic" cloning)

Upholders of the so-called "therapeutic cloning" always insist that their intention is not to go as far as "reproductive" cloning but to destroy the human embryo thus created in the very first days of its development. According to their reasoning (widely reported in the press, the mass media and political speeches), this approach would be "ethical", whereas reproductive cloning would not.

Human cloning that could lead to the birth of a human being is to be judged an immoral method of artificial procreation.35 In "therapeutic cloning", this process is interrupted intentionally: a human embryo is voluntarily created, later to be destroyed in order to extract embryonic stem cells from it. In an ethical perspective, this procedure is even worse. To accept it would be on a par with accepting a radical equality between the human species and others (P. Singer). Rejection of the possibility to kill one human life for the purpose of healing other human lives does not originate in a specifically religious stance but in the force of the arguments and reasoning of common sense and the power of a coherent anthropology and a personalistic bioethics.

f. Human cloning is contrary to the dignity of life and procreation

The application of the techniques of cloning to human beings, with the intention of creating embryos, both to implant them subsequently in a uterus (reproductive) or to extract their stem cells and then destroy them (therapeutic cloning or cloning for research), not only concerns the dignity of human life and its inalienable rights, but is also contrary to the moral value of the intrinsic union between life, sexuality and procreation. The orientation of human sexuality to procreation is not a "biological addition", but corresponds to human nature and is manifested in the natural inclination for procreation by men and women. These techniques, instead, separate the procreative aspects of human sexuality from its unitive aspects and are thus contrary to the dignity of sexuality and procreation.

Cloning techniques are, in themselves and always, "reproductive". Recent experiences also show that human cloning, despite the enormous difficulties, is not impossible in principle. The ethical question thus concerns not only the dignity of human life and the exploitation and eventual destruction of the embryo, but also the specific and precisely sexual way in which human procreation occurs that has a moral value of its own which these techniques fail to respect.

g. Cloning of human embryos is contrary to the dignity of the family

An important ethical factor that is often overlooked should also be considered. The human being is a social being. In human beings, the sexual and procreative dynamic takes place naturally in a context in which sexuality and procreation are harmoniously integrated in the reality of conjugal love, which fills with meaning human sexuality open to life. In marriage, love and responsibility converge in openness to life and continue in the educational task, through which parents devote the maximum care to their children.

Human cloning ruptures this whole dynamic. In cloning, life appears as an element that has nothing whatsoever to do with the family. The embryo "appears", so to speak, on the margins not only of sexuality but also of genealogy. Every human being has the right to be born from the integral love — physical and spiritual — of a father and a mother, to receive their care, to be accepted by his parents as a gift and to be raised by them. When we see looming on the horizon the disturbing possibility of manipulating a conceived human being, of subjecting the embryo to experimentation only to destroy it once the cells or the biological knowledge desired have been obtained, then it is the very concept of filial, maternal and paternal relationship that is in crisis, and the idea of family is shattered.

5. Conclusion

Recent developments in science show that human cloning, in spite of immense technical difficulties and the profound ethical and anthropological objections to it, is more than a hypothesis: it is becoming a possibility. The various attempts by law and by international accords to prevent this possibility from becoming reality, and to obtain recognition of it as a crime against the human person, are not based on a vague fear of progress and technology, but on important and judicious ethical motivations and on a clearly identified anthropological concept of the human person, sexuality and the family. It is up to public authorities, parliaments and international bodies to take a firm stand. This truly is a key problem for the future of humanity and for a safeguarding of the dignity of scientific research and the efforts to promote the life, health and well-being of human beings, which justifies the adoption of appropriate measures by the community of the peoples who make up the great human family.


1 "The Pontifical Council for the Family has the task of promoting the pastoral care of the family and of the specific apostolate in the area of the family, by putting into effect the teachings and directives of the ecclesiastical Magisterium, so that Christian families may carry out the educative, evangelizing and apostolic mission to which they have been called. In particular... b) it attends to the spread of the doctrine of the Church regarding family problems so that it can be integrally known and correctly presented to the Christian people both in catechesis and on a scientific level;... c) it promotes and coordinates pastoral activity with regard to the problem of responsible parenthood according to the teaching of the Church;... e) it encourages, sustains and coordinates the efforts in defence of human life throughout the entire span of its existence from the very first moment of conception; f) it promotes, through the work of specialized scientific institutes (theological and pastoral), studies aimed at integrating the theological sciences and the human sciences on themes related to the family, so that the doctrine of the Church may be better understood by men of good will" (John Paul II, "Motu proprio" Familia a DeoInstituta, 9 March 1981, 3, V; Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 1 June 1981, pp. 1, 10).

2 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Donum Vitae, 22 February 1987, II, B, 4, c.; ORE, 16 March 1987, p. 6.

3 The term "clone", used by the British geneticist and physiologist J.B.S. Haldane (Biological Possibilities for the Human Species of the Next Ten-Thousand Years, 1963), originally derived from botany: "a colony of organisms that in an asexual manner — that is, without the intervention of sex — proceed from a single progenitor" (Herbert John Webber, 1903). Its root is the Latin word "colonia, coloniae" (and the verb "colo, is, colui, coltum") that comes from the Greek klwn, klwnoV (“klon, klonós), which means "a new shoot to plant" and alludes to the natural asexual reproduction of certain plants, such as the rose-bush, that can be reproduced by planting a portion of it. Cf. H.J. Weber, New Horticultural and Agricultural Terms, Science 28 (1903), pp. 501-503; A.A. Diamandopoulos, P.C. Goudas, Cloning's not a new idea: the Greeks had a word for it centuries ago, Nature 6815/408, 21-28 December 2000, p. 905.

4 J. Loeb, in 1894, artificially stimulated parthenogenesis in sea urchins, but it was the German Nobel Prize-winner H. Spemann who succeeded in 1914 in transferring nuclei to salamander cells. He was the first, in 1938, to suggest the nuclear transfer in the cells of mammals. In 1981, this technique, which had been considerably improved, was applied successfully to rats and, in 1986, to sheep and cows. In 1997, I. Wilmut of the Roslin Institute, U.K., was successful in obtaining the birth of the first cloned sheep in the world, the famous "Dolly".

5 Pontifical Academy for Life, Riflessioni sulla Clonazione, 11 July 1997; ORE, 9 July, 1997, n. 2, p. 10. Cf. D. Tettamanzi (edited by M. Doldi), "Cloning", Dizionario di Bioetica, Piemme, Casale Monferrato, 2002; L. Ciccone, Bioetica. Storia, Principi, Questioni, Ares, Milan, 2003, pp. 143-176; I. Wilmut et al., Viable offspring derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells, Nature, 385, 997, pp. 810-813.

6 Natural parthenogenesis consists in the formation of a new individual from a female gamete (oocyte) without the participation of a male gamete (spermatozoon). This natural phenomenon occurs in females that produce spontaneous embryos without previous fertilization (in certain species of invertebrates, not in mammals), or in biological individuals that originated in hybridization (the cross-breeding of different species). Since there is no recombination, the progeny are identical replicas of the single progenitor, that is, natural clones.

7 Embryonic fission consists in the separation from the embryo of a few cells, in such a way that a complete adult develops from each of the resulting separated cells, complete with the same genetic heritage.

8 The totipotentiality of a cell consists in its ability to generate all the cells and tissues of a complete organism, including (if satisfactory circumstances exist) the development of an individual. In the human, each embryonic cell remains totipotent for a few days after fertilization. Homozygous germination (the phenomenon of identical twins) is the

result of an incidental embronic fission of the totipotent cells that make up the embryo in the first stages of its development.

9 Cellular multipotentiality implies the capacity of a cell to generate differentiated cells and tissue of parts of the organism, but not of all or each of them, nor a complete individual. In the human being, in particular, multipotentiality concerns the capacity to generate cell lines and differentiated tissue derived from each one of the embryonic layers, that is, the ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm.

10 A stem cell is a non-differentiated cell that can make an infinite number of exact copies of itself. Stem cells are able to produce specialized cells of the tissues of an organism, such as the cardiac muscle, brain or liver tissue, bone marrow, etc. Scientists today are able to keep stem cells alive in vitro for an indefinite period, and they are beginning to know how to produce differentiated cells according to need.

11  House of Representatives, HR 534, February 2003.

12 This is an agency of the United Nations system, created in the context of UNESCO.

13 Resolution 53/192.

14Ad Hoc Committee on an International Convention against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings.

15 "It is impossible to control the efficacy of human cloning for reproductive ends if therapeutic cloning is not also forbidden... a partial prohibition could give rise to the appearance of clandestine cloning for reproductive ends and the establishment of an illegal trade in oocytes... the juridical principle of precaution must guarantee the protection of the weakest party, in this case, the human embryo... the experience accumulated in animal cloning has revealed the unreliability of the techniques used as well as the considerable risks of malformation and deformities in the embryo.... Opposing human cloning is not equivalent to rejecting scientific progress or progress in genetic research. Cloning is not the only strategy for research for the development of regenerative medicine... a general endorsement of research into adult stem cells would help to make the most of their potential and demonstrate their effectiveness". Memorandum Contro la Clonazione Terapuetica. Spanish Delegation to the United Nations, February 2002.

16 Resolution of the European Parliament of 12 March 1997, §2 and §11.

17 Ian Wilmut, "father" of Dolly the sheep, and Rudolf Jaenisch testified to this before the United States Senate.

18 On this point, there is an abundant scientific bibliography. For example, see the works of D. Humpherys, K. Eggan, H. Akutsu, K. Ochedlinger, W.M. Rideout, D. Biniszkiewicz, R. Yanagimachi, R. Jaenisch, Epigenic Instability in ES Cells and Cloned Mice, Science, 293 (5527), 6 July 2000, pp. 95-97; D. Bourchis, D. Le Bourhis, D. Patin, A. Niveleau, P. Comizzoli, J.-P. Renard, E. Viegas-Péquignot, Delayed and incomplete reprogramming of chromosome methylation patterns in bovine cloned embryos, Current Biology, 2 October 2001, Vol. 11, n. 19; Y-K. Kang, D-B Koo, J-S. Park, Y-H. Choi, A-S. Chung, K-K. Lewe, Y-M. Han, Aberrant methylation of donor genome in cloned bovine embryos, Nature Genetics, June 2001, Vol. 28, n. 2, pp. 173-177.

19 This observation on "reproductive" cloning is also valid as an objection to "therapeutic" cloning. Its application in the clinical field of stem cells harvested from cloned embryos would, to say the least, be dubious in these circumstances. The cells of these embryos show serious genetic defects; therefore, the proposal of transferring abnormal embryonic stem cells to a human person does not seem rational.

20 Alvin Toeffler's book, Future Shock (1970), sketches a fantastic futuristic vision of man who makes copies of himself ("man will be able to make biological carbon copies of himself"), and reflects in a literary way on the prospects to which these techniques give rise as well as on anxiety about their consequences. Cf. Lee M. Silver, What are clones? They're not what you think they are, Nature, 5 July 2001, Vol. 412, n. 6842, p. 21.

21 Hans Jonas, Das Prinzip Verantwortung (The Main Responsibility), ed. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1984.

22 Cf. Hans Jonas, Cloniamo un uomo: dall'eugenetica all'ingegneria genetica, in Technica, Medicina ed Etica, ed. Einaudi, Turin, 1997, p. 136.

23 Natalia López Moratalla, Las células adultas llevan clara ventaja a las embrionarias, en Palabra, December 2002.

24 Elisabeth Montfort, La bioéthique, entre confusion et responsabilité, in AAVV (under the direction of Elisabeth Montfort, Bioéthique. Entre confusion et responsabilité. Actes du Colloque de Paris. Assemblée nationale, 1 Octobre 2001. Three-monthly review, Liberté politique, ed. Francois-Xavier de Guibert, Paris, 2003, pp. 27-28.

25 Pontifical Academy for Life, Dichiarazione sulla produzione e sull'uso scientifico e terapeutico delle cellule staminale, 25 August 2000.

26 D. Tettamanzi, Nuova bioetica cristiana, Piemme, Casale Monferrato, 2000, pp. 235-268; L. Ciccone, Bioetica. Storia, Principi, Questioni, Ares, Milan, 2003, pp. 61-80; R.C. Barra, Status giuridico dell'embrione umano, in Lexicon. Famiglia, vita e questioni etiche, EDB, Bologna, 2003; E. Sgreccia, Manuale di Bioetica (Vol. I), Vita e pensiero, Milan, 1998, pp. 361-422; C. Caffarra, Il problema morale dell'aborto, in AAVV (edited by A. Fiori-E. Sgreccia) L'aborto, Vita e pensiero, Milan, 1975, pp. 313-320.

27 I. Carrasco de Paula, Il rispetto dovuto all'embrione umano: prospettiva storico-dottrinale, in Pontifical Academy for Life, Identità e statuto dell'embrione umano, Libr. ed. Vaticana, 1988, p. 31.

28 The expression "pre-embryo" is deceptive and was contrived to support abortion. Cf. A. Serra, Lo stato biologico dell'embrione umano. Quando comincia l’ ‘essere umano?, in Pontifical Academy for Life, Commento interdisciplinare all' Evangelium Vitae, Libr. ed. Vaticana, 1997.

29 R.C. Barra, Status giuridico dell'embrione umano, in Lexicon. Famiglia, vita e questioni etiche, EDB, Bologna, 2003.

30 "Syngamy" means that part of fertilization that consists in the process initiated by the penetration of the sperm into the oocyte, for the purpose of the uniting the chromosomal content of both the pronuclei formed (amfimixis).

31 Cf. Angelo Serra, L'uomo-embrione. Il grande misconosciuto, ed. Cantagalli, Siena, 2003, pp. 41-52. Cf. also the items "Dignity of the human embryo" and "Embryonic selection and reduction" in Lexicon. Termini ambigui e discussi su famigia, vita e questioni etiche, (edited by) the Pontifical Council for the Family, EDB, Bologna, 2003.

32 The technical expressions: zygote, morula and blastocyst correspond to descriptions of the embryo on the basis of the phase in its development, according to histological and physiological criteria.

33 The deceptive idea of the "pre-embryo" was coined, as is well known, by the Warnock Committee, and today is generally accepted and deeply rooted in many milieu: A. Serra, Pari dignità all'embrione umano in Pontifical Council for the Family, I figli; famiglia e società nel nuovo Millennio. Atti del Congresso Internazionale Teologico-Pastorale. Vatican City, 11-13 October 2000, Libr. ed. Vaticana, 2001, pp. 313-320; R. Colombo, La famiglia e gli studi sul genoma umano, op. cit., pp. 321-325; A. Serra, R. Colombo, Identità e statuto del'embrione umano: il contributo della biologia,in Pontifical Academy for Life, Identità e statuto dell'embrione umano, Libr. ed. Vaticana, 1988, p. 157; D. Tettamanzi, Nuova bioethica cristiana, Piemme, Casale Monferrato, 2000, pp. 235-268; L. Ciccone, Bioetica. Storia, Principi, Questioni, Ares, Milan, 2003, pp. 61-80; R. C. Barra, Status giuridico dell'embrione umano, in Lexicon. Famiglia, vita e questioni etiche, EDB, Bologna 2003; Ph. Caspar, La problématique de l'animation de l'embryon. Survoi historique et enjeux dogmatiques, in Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 1991, n. 123.

34 Rationality, conscience and autonomy would constitute a person, according to authors such as H.T. Engelhardt or P. Singer. H.T. Engelhardt, The Foundations of Bioethics, New York, Oxford University Press, 1986; Manuale di bioetica, Mondadori, Milan, 1991; Practical Ethics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993; Cf. L. Palazzani, Il concetto di persona tra bioetica e diritto, Turin, Giappichelli, 1996.

35 Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae, I, 6.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
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8 October 2003, page 10

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