Reflection on Dignitas Personae

Author: Wojciech Giertych, OP

Reflection on Dignitas Personae

Wojciech Giertych, OP
Theologian of the Papal Household

Human cloning a form of biological slavery

The transmission of human life has always been viewed as a mystery, not in the sense that the biological functions were unknown, but in the sense that there is something great and inscrutable happening in this moment that cannot be fully fathomed by empirical observation and deserves respect. Human life is marked by an inherent sanctity. For this reason the transmission of human life is distinguished semantically from the transmission of the life of plants and animals. One is called "procreation" and the other is called "reproduction". The prefix pro- in procreation refers to a vicarious function. It is God who creates out of nothing an immortal human soul and gives it to every child that is conceived. This divine gift is received not only by the child that begins its human existence. It is also received in the moral sense by the parents of the child who fulfil the gravest mission of transmitting life (cf. the opening lines of Paul VI's Encyclical: Humanae vitaetradendaemunusgravissivum) and of loving and educating the child that they have received from God. And even if the parents fail in their responsibilities, God does not fail because "God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice" (Rom 11:29). When the conceiving of a child takes place as a result of sinful adultery, incest, rape or is invitro, God continues to create an immortal soul for the child, even though the participation of the parents in this transmission of human life is tainted by egoism, aggression, irresponsibility or manipulative pride. The transmission of the life of plants and animals is different, because plants and animals have no immortal soul and so no personal dignity, and that is why it is simply termed "reproduction". They exist not only for themselves but ultimately in view of the needs of humanity (cf. Gn 1:28-29).

The adapting of the processes of reproduction in plants and animals undertaken in view of human requirements that is possible due to developments in biotechnology becomes inadmissible when applied to human procreation. Procreation cannot be treated on the same level as animal husbandry. Technical interventions that distort the nature and finality of procreation are a tragic attack upon human dignity. The looming perspective of human cloning rightly therefore generates the terrified response of humanity. Due to scientific developments the ways and means in which human dignity may be served, but also attacked and manipulated have greatly increased, and so it is appropriate that the Church does not remain silent. The Instruction Dignitas Personae published recently by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith devotes therefore three paragraphs to the terrifying perspective of human cloning.

Cloning is defined as an asexual and agamic reproduction of an entire organism so as to produce a copy that from the genetic point of view is identical to its unique progenitor. At present, two methods of cloning have been developed. The first, known as embryo-splitting consists in the artificial separation of a single cell or of a group of cells of an embryo in its initial stage of development followed by its successive transfer into the uterus so as to obtain an artificial twin of the original embryo. The second method, to which strictly speaking the term "cloning" refers, consists in the somatic cell nuclear transfer. An egg cell has its cytoplasm removed, and then the nucleus of an embryonic or somatic cell with the genetic material to be cloned is introduced into the egg cell, which is then activated chemically or through an electric impulse. The egg cell then begins to develop as an embryo, having an identical genetic material as the original from which the nucleus had been taken.

Basically there are no moral objections to animal cloning. Cloning produces weaker individuals that being mere copies of the original are subject to sicknesses and premature ageing, but they may have qualities that may be desired for some specific purpose. Domesticated animals as also cultivated plants are biologically weaker than their natural counterparts, and so they are unable. to survive without human support, but their reproduction is speedier and therefore less expensive. Fruit and vegetables and animal meat may be specially tailored in view of their quality and capacity for transportation and refrigeration. The cloning of animals so as to produce cheaper meat or so as to save species that risk extinction is therefore morally acceptable even though such clones will always be weaker than naturally reproduced animals and they risk being deformed.

The application of these same technical reproductive methods to human beings however is completely unacceptable on moral grounds. Proponents of human cloning distinguish between reproductive and therapeutic cloning. The first is geared to the reproduction of tailor-made humans. These, while being physically and genetically weak could have some chosen characteristics, such as the chosen sex, the copied genetic composition of another person or other more specific pre-ordained characteristics. Therapeutic cloning is said to aim uniquely at the production of embryos with a preset genetic patrimony, from which embryonic stem cells could be harvested for the production of drugs that would be useful in the overcoming of the problem of immunological incompatibility in transplantations. Therapeutic cloning amounts to the production of human embryos in laboratory conditions with the set intention of killing them after the stem cells have been harvested. If therapeutic cloning were to be accepted there would be hardly any moral barrier to reproductive cloning, because the methods of both are identical.

Viewed from the perspective of the moral object — the moral object being not only a mere physical event but the action perceived and ascertained by the reason of the agent in the light of moral principles (John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 78) — there is no doubt that the act of human cloning totally contradicts the basic principles of human procreation. Instead of procreating children as a result of the mutual gift of self of spouses, the proposed human cloning consists in the "production" of an individual outside of the context of marital love and the intrinsic finality of sexuality. Human cloning therefore is in direct contradiction to the nature of the marital act and to the dignity of family life. It leads to the assumption that an individual may be called into existence not as a result of the divine blessing of the total gift of self of spouses and therefore received as a gift of God, but may be "produced" through the application of a technical procedure. In this, there is a similarity to in vitro fecundation, with the added proviso that the "produced" individual from the very beginning is subject to profound biological manipulation. If it will turn out that the result of the human cloning will in some way be flawed, the mind set that underlies this act of manipulation is such that it will generate the considering of the flawed done not as a child that is to be accepted and loved irrespectively of its weaknesses but as the result of a failed technological experiment, which may therefore be discarded since it has not attained the expected standard. This reduction of the human person to the level of such a "product" is totally incompatible with human dignity.

Viewed from the perspective of the effect of the act of human cloning, the clone, being subject to a form of biological slavery will be permanently stamped by a fundamental dependence upon the preferences of its makers. A child that is artificially brought into existence not for its own sake but uniquely so as to fulfil the needs or aspirations of its "producers" will forever be marked by this reductive enslavement. Since we are still in the realm of contingent future acts that however are becoming technically possible, we can only imagine the psychological conditionings, limitations and angry outbursts of future human clones. The Freudian vision of rebellion against the father and liberation from all educative and moral restraint in the name of arbitrary uncontrolled freedom will find in the anger and resentment of future human clones an understandable humus. Prenatal psychology is only beginning to study the impact of the social acceptance of contraception and abortion on the initial psychic development of children in prenatal stage. One may conjecture what sort of psychic impact does in vitro fecundation have on children brought into existence in this way and what sort of psychic and moral deformation will human cloning bring.

Viewed from the perspective of the intention of the agent human cloning has to be seen as a moment of supreme intellectual pride. An intellect that is focused uniquely on the gathering of measurable scientific data about phenomena and on trying out whatever is technically possible, and at the same time is excluding the questionings and acquired results of philosophical speculative endeavours focused on finalities, meanings and natures, is closed upon the fullness of truth. Positivist reductions of the perspective and even more post-modern denials of the possibility of knowing any truth in the name of agnostic relativism locks the mind in itself. Instead of reaching out towards the plenitude of truth, a reaching out towards which the gift of faith strongly invites the mind (cf. John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 56), the reductive intellect is enslaved by itself, and then as a result, it is inclined to attribute to itself a supreme quality failing to see how ridiculously limited is its vision. When the intellect is directed towards beings that are below its nature, it has a certain domination over them. When the intellect reaches out to universal truths and to God, who is the source of all truth and all being, the intellect needs to be humble towards that which surpasses it, but in that humility it is drawn beyond its own limits to the fullness of knowledge. It may then view that which is below it in the light of universal truths. Technological manipulations such as human cloning, in which a human being is reduced to the level of mere experimental matter over which the scientist desires to have full dominion, undertaken in blatant rejection of the contemplative wonder about the dignity of the human person, a dignity known in its universality, are a sign of profound intellectual pride. The intellect of those who adopt a eugenic vision, aspiring to manufacture an entirely new human identity through their techniques is sick in its self-admiration. History is littered with tragic examples of ideologies that have been born of minds locked in intellectual pride, unwilling to accept a humble attitude towards the truth of reality. There is no doubt that those who are hoping to clone humans cannot in any way tie that intention with the inherent, though often unrecognized focus of the will towards the ultimate end that is the supreme happiness in God. St. Paul urged us to do everything for the glory of God (I Co 10:31). It is not possible to attach an openness towards the greater glory of God to an action that directly attacks the dignity of the human person, because the glory of God is the living person flourishing in its humanity. The Christian, moved by grace, attaches a loving intention, based on divinely received charity to every act and thereby brings glory to God. The "production" of human clones in proud mimicry of God is void of charity and an insult to the Creator.

The abomination of human cloning may he perceived with greater clarity through a comparison with human formation. While it is perfectly normal that educators and even more so parents have some hopes for their children, true human formation is not geared to the "production" of pre-planned individuals. A musician may want his son to be a musician' and a doctor may want his son to be a doctor. In education, however, children have to be given various possibilities of developing their diverse potentialities. A program of formation that would deny individuality and the development of personal virtues, requiring only an exact imitation of an imposed identity would be intrinsically inhuman. Whenever such projects have been attempted, in schooling or in social programs imposed by totalitarian regimes, they have rightfully met with repugnant reaction. In an even deeper measure the perspective of human cloning meets with a disgusted opposition of all, Christians and non-Christians, who automatically sense the inalienable dignity of humanity.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
29 April 2009, page 11

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