Until February 1997, the human cloning of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was a futuristic, science fiction scenario. On February 27, 1997, the chills of reality went down our spines with the announcement that English scientists had cloned a sheep named Dolly. Promptly following this news, researchers in Oregon on March 1, 1997, announced that a rhesus monkey had been cloned. The reality of animal cloning stares us in the face, and human cloning is around the corner. Science has an unquenchable thirst to do what is possible, sometimes without regard to moral implications.
Proponents of human cloning rush forward with proposals for its use that on the surface appear benevolent. Advocates mention replacing a dead child with a genetic twin or creating a reservoir of genetically-matched material for spare parts for diseased organs such as bone marrow, livers, kidneys, etc. The National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) has recommended that clones grown outside the womb could provide genetic advances for fighting diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Parkinson’s disease and cancer. Individuals and groups are stepping out to be identified as “pro-clone.” The right to choose philosophy, with which prolife groups are so familiar, will be the ultimate justification for these individuals.
Cloning, also called “somatic cell nuclear transfer (donor cell),” involves a transfer of a nucleus of a somatic cell (any ‘body’ cell other than an egg or sperm) to an egg that has had its nucleus removed. This egg is stimulated by a tiny electrical current to begin to develop. The embryo later is transferred from the lab to the host uterus to complete the development of the new individual. This new individual is not an exact duplicate of the donor, since a small genetic contribution is made by the mitochondrial DNA of the host cell.
In response to the introduction of Dolly, President Clinton charged the NBAC with making recommendations on human cloning. On June 9, 1997, based on the NBAC report, the President released his “Cloning Prohibition Act of 1997,” stating, “Banning human cloning reflects our humanity. It is the right thing to do. Creating a child through this new method calls into question our most fundamental beliefs.” This act, however, is only a temporary, five-year ban prohibiting cloned humans from being created and born. It does allow federally funded unrestricted research on cloned embryonic human beings. The ‘moratorium’ announced by the President on federally funded research applies only to research intended to “create [bring to birth] a human being.”
RLM finds human cloning to be an inherent violation of human dignity. As with abortion and assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization, human cloning research denies the most fundamental of human rights—the right to life. The research process inevitably requires scientists to destroy and discard their ‘failed’ experiments. For example, it took 277 attempts at cell manipulation and twenty-nine embryo implants before the sheep, Dolly, was produced.
Cloning would further violate human dignity by denying the intrinsic value of each human life, thereby viewing human beings as products or commodities. For this same reason, we already oppose surrogate parenting contracts, genetic screening of embryos before uterine implanting and sex-selection abortion. Cloning could not possibly respect the intrinsic value of the person created because a cloned person will not be created simply for their value as a person. There will always be an intended and specific utility attached to a cloned person because he or she was created with a particular genetic make-up for some purpose. Any action taken to create or destroy human beings based on their genetic qualities denies their intrinsic value.
RLM strongly advocates for the passage of tightly written legislation at the national and state level that will permanently ban all human cloning including research on embryos. If human cloning proceeds, our minds can conjure up many scenarios of abuse of human cloning as our narcissistic society creates human beings not in God’s own image but in our own.
(October 8, 1997)