On February 22, 1997, the pro-life landscape was altered into a new direction. It was on that fateful day that Dolly the sheep was revealed to the world. The world discovered that mammalian cloning was now a reality and that human cloning was not as far off as many had expected. For the next few years there was an initial flurry of legislative initiatives to ban the process. Soon after, the revelation that stem cells could be harvested from human embryos became news as well. This, in turn, changed the debate even further—can someone be cloned in order to harvest embryonic stem cells for potential therapies? But what has happened legislatively with these biotechnological issues?
Interestingly, when it comes to the very beginning of life, some pro-life legislators seem to be confused. Take, for instance, Senator Rand Paul and his statement that it is difficult to answer when life begins. He is not alone among the politicians, which, of course, makes it difficult to pass pro-life legislation when it comes to the cloning issue. The reality that human cloning creates life outside of the sexual act may be perplexing for numerous people, including politicians. The question they may ask is how can a human embryo be created with just one “parent”? The science that goes into it can be rather intricate, not to mention the vocabulary, which, for the uninitiated, can absolutely obscure the issue for many.
The process of mammalian cloning is known as “somatic cell nuclear transfer”. Basically, an egg cell is taken from a donor; then the nucleus of that egg cell is removed; remember an egg cell only has half the genetic code. This removal of the nucleus is called enucleation. Then a somatic (adult) cell is taken from another donor. This type of cell does have the full genetic code of the donor. The nucleus is removed and placed into the enucleated egg cell. Then, by a process of either electrical or chemical stimulation, scientists try to essentially fool the egg cell into sensing it was fertilized. It is at this point that an embryo has been created. However, it is important to note that this process does not always produce an embryo. In fact, it usually takes a couple of hundred attempts to produce just one embryo.
An example of this confusion can be seen in what human cloning proponents call therapeutic and reproductive cloning. Some cloning researchers have made the false claim that the embryo created is not a human life; clinging to word games that are typically seen for those who advocate for abortion. The first noticeable obfuscation is how pro-cloning advocates try to distinguish between “therapeutic” and “reproductive” cloning.
What pro-cloning advocates are trying to do is claim that the act of cloning is defined by the intention of the act. Take for example, HB 142 that was filed in the 83rd Texas Legislature just over two years ago. It defines cloning as “implanting or attempting to implant the product of nuclear transplantation into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus” (see pg. 1 of HB 142, introduced version). This language is typical in bills that would allow human embryos to be created by cloning only to be destroyed at a later time for research purposes. Firstly, it establishes that embryos created by cloning cannot be implanted into a uterus (human or otherwise) or an artificial uterus (if one were ever to be created). This language begins to establish that the newly created human embryo is never going to be a child loved by parents. Reproductive cloning, on the other hand, for these proponents, is the intent to create a human embryo by somatic cell nuclear transfer in order to have a child.
Secondly, the bill notes that an institution may not “maintain an unfertilized blastocyst for more than 14 days after the date of its first cell division, not including any time during which the blastocyst is stored at a temperature that is less than zero degrees centigrade” (pg. 2, HB 142, introduced version, 83rd Texas Legislature). This language proposes that the human embryo clone is merely an object to be used and destroyed for medical research.
As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states in Dignitas Personae,
“From the ethical point of view, so-called therapeutic cloning is even more serious. To create embryos with the intention of destroying them, even with the intention of helping the sick, is completely incompatible with human dignity, because it makes the existence of a human being at the embryonic stage nothing more than a means to be used and destroyed. It is gravely immoral to sacrifice a human life for therapeutic ends” (no. 30).
What the Congregation notes is that therapeutic cloning is an even greater evil than reproductive cloning. The reason is pretty should be obvious: One allows a child to grow and develop, the other destroys the child. Thirdly, pro-cloning advocates use terminology that is designed to dehumanize the human embryo. An example of this can again be found in HB 142 when the legislation defines the term “unfertilized blastocyst”. This term is defined as “an intact cellular structure that is the product of nuclear transplantation” (see pg. 2). It should be noted that a blastocyst is simply an early stage embryo. But notice that the definition never defines it as human. It is simply “an intact cellular structure.” This is language designed to confuse the legislator and the public in general.
When God commands the first parents “to be fruitful and multiply”, He is not speaking of cloning. As God is love and creates out of love, He commands people to create new life out of a loving act. Undoubtedly, therapeutic cloning is far from this reality; it is designed to destroy new life. Reproductive cloning poses its own problems, “If cloning were to be done for reproduction, this would impose on the resulting individual a predetermined genetic identity, subjecting him – as has been stated – to a form of biological slavery, from which it would be difficult to free himself. The fact that someone would arrogate to himself the right to determine arbitrarily the genetic characteristics of another person represents a grave offense to the dignity of that person as well as to the fundamental equality of all people” (Dignitas Personae, no. 29). But what does the Congregation mean here? It would seem that, unlike a child who inherits a genetic code from both parents, that this child will likely face a set of predetermined expectations. These clones would be expected to behave and act like their genetic parent. If, for example, the child is a clone of a professional athlete, the expectation is that he will like athletics and exceed in sports. The shadow of his genetic parent will always haunt him and people, including his “parents”, may also expect him to perform well at sports. It would be something that is difficult to escape from even if he does not like athletics.
Pro-life organizations need to take a serious look at how they can protect human life in its earliest stages of existence. Banning human cloning helps to educate the public about not only the dignity of the human embryonic person and the sacredness of the sexual act, but also that biotechnology must have limits. As the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith states very clearly, “The fulfillment of this duty implies courageous opposition to all those practices which result in grave and unjust discrimination against unborn human beings, who have the dignity of a person, created like others in the image of God. Behind every “no” in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great “yes” to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single and unique human being called into existence” (Dignitas Personae, no. 37).
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