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Human cloning: Reproductive vs. therapeutic

Many people think today that cloning a human person, even at the embryonic stage, is science fiction-it is not. Even under the Clinton Administration, federal tax dollars were used for the “clone and kill option” where human embryonic persons were generated by cloning and then killed since they would not be implanted into the uterus. Why is there such an interest in human cloning? Reproductive cloning seeks to bring a human embryonic person generated by cloning to birth. Imagine that with this technology a woman can be the twin sister of her mother, lack a biological father, and be the daughter of her grandmother. Therapeutic cloning, however, does not seek to bring a human person to birth. Its goal is to generate a human embryonic person in order that the stem cells be isolated-which results in the death of that individual human being. Then they are used, purportedly, to treat diseases in the person from which the clone was derived. The hope is that the treated body’s immune system would not reject the cells or tissues that would be transplanted, and they probably would not. The only distinction between reproductive and therapeutic cloning is that the former seeks to generate a human person that will result in a live birth while the latter seeks to generate a human person at the embryonic stage who will be killed in order to obtain stem cells. Both reproductive and therapeutic cloning launch grave attacks upon innocent human life and are hence gravely immoral and must, therefore, be rejected.

Cloning: Experiment 1

In November of 2001, Advanced Cell Technology announced that it had generated human embryonic clones using two different procedures. First, a procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer was used. Human oocytes were obtained and their nuclei removed. The nucleus of a donor cell was then isolated and injected into the cytosol of the oocyte. This cell was then stimulated to divide by the use of two chemicals-ionomycin and 6-dimethylaminopurine. In this experiment, a total of 19 oocytes were reconstructed. Twelve hours later, it was reported that seven of them had each developed a large pronucleus similar to what is seen in oocytes fertilized by sperm; all four of them developed a pronucleus from which three cleaved to four or six cells. There was no evidence reported of an inner cell mass, which is the desired “stage” from which the stem cells are to be isolated for use in “therapeutic” procedures. Clearly, what were generated in this first experiment were human embryos who contained the ordinary complement of maternal and paternal homologous chromosomes.

Experiment 2

The second experiment involved obtaining 22 oocytes and activating them to divide with the same two chemicals used in the first experiment. Twelve hours after activation, twenty developed one pronucleus and cleaved to the two-to-four cell stage. On day five of culture, it was reported that there were blastocoele cavities observed in six of them. A discernible inner cell mass was not present. It is critical to note that what was generated in this experiment appeared to be a human embryo that did not contain both maternal and paternal chromosomes. Further investigation is needed to examine the karytope which is present-the complete chromosomal complement.

The human cloning process perverts the basic relationships of the human person: filiation, consanguinity, kinship, and parenthood. While in vitro fertilization has already splintered parenting, human cloning will mean the radical rupture of these bonds. This is a type of eugenics heretofore unknown. Rather than eliminating born people who are deemed to be inferior, the new eugenics pre-selects specific biological qualities that can be appraised, monitored, selected or rejected. Nuclear transfer and parthenogenesis, as well as attempts at other types of human cloning such as “blastomere splitting” and de-individuation, must be opposed on both the private and federal level.

Halting the human cloning project (reproductive and therapeutic) is a moral duty each of us must accept; it is a responsibility that must be translated into cultural, social and legislative terms. It is never ethically acceptable to kill one innocent human person to save the life of another at any stage of biological development.


More on stem cell research

By C. Ward Kischer, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus of Anatomy
University of Arizona
College of Medicine
Tucson, Arizona

On August 9, President Bush announced two decisions. With the first decision there would be no NIH funding for human embryonic stem cell research (HESCR) in which stem cells were obtained from any more “spare” human embryos (from IVF laboratories). This, Bush said, was based “on a moral (ethical) reason.” It was a good and proper decision. With the second decision, Bush approved the NIH funding of already existing human embryonic stem cell lines, and declared he knew of “60” of them. He denied that this decision was a political one. Secretary of HHS, Tommy Thompson, said this decision by Bush was made “in an ethical and morally sound manner.”

But, this decision smacks of complicity in an unethical action, that is, profiting from “ill-gotten goods.” Bishop Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, seemed to defend complicity in the case of using chickenpox vaccine (developed from cells derived from aborted human embryos) by saying: “there were no other options.” In the case of HESCR, the option is adult stem cell research.

But suppose adult stem cell research proves to be a bust. Would it then be licit to use the “spare” embryos?

The battle over stem cell research using the “spare” embryos is far from over. If any significant results are obtained from research on existing cell lines, the clamor for full scale, widespread funding for use of the “spare” embryos will reach fever pitch. Thus, we need to revisit the core issue related to those “spares.”

In feature in the Wall Street Journal on the pros and cons of HESCR, Robert George of Princeton University gets to the heart of the issue by stating, “The embryo is…a living human being.” However, in the discourse surrounding the issues involving the beginning of human life, the science of human embryology has been virtually forgotten. Every human embryologist acknowledges that the life of the new individual human being begins at fertilization. However, the liberal mantra has promoted a new weltanschauung1 (conception of life).

In the same Wall Street Journal feature, David Baltimore, President of Cal Tech and a Nobel Laureate, writes in favor of HESCR saying: ” To me, a tiny mass of cells that has never been in a uterus is hardly a human being-even if it has the potential to become human.” Analogously, we could say that a prisoner in schutzhaft2 (protective custody), that has no chance of ever becoming free is hardly a human being-even if he exhibits the biological qualities of one.

The Holocaust revisited

In other words, the embryo, especially when residing in a petri dish, is the new untermenschen3 (sub-human). What Baltimore and others like him deny is the reality of a life continuum. Virtually every quality of biological life changes with time with regard to its size, form, function and appearance. To attach varying degrees of value at different points along the continuum indicates the employment of arbitrary moral relevance, not science.

William Safire, syndicated columnist, points out that the “spare” embryo “is no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence”; and, prominent scientist Dr. Mary Hendrix, President of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), states that “spare” embryos are “so small they can fit on the tip of a sewing needle.” Does this mean that small people are less significant, or less human, than big people?

I hear clearly, but swiftly fading in the distance, the words expressed at Nuremberg: “Never again.”

Footnotes

  1. Weltenschauung: This word was a favorite of Adolph Hitler. He used it to convey his concept of racial and ethnic purity.
  2. Schutzhaft: The Nazis used this word to describe those who were mentally and physically defective, and other unwanted persons, who, after they were placed in such custody, would never be made free.
  3. Untermenschen: means The Jews and the Slavic people were referred to as “sub-humans.” They had no right to live, except those needed to toil in the fields and mines as slaves of their Nazi masters. They were denied all but what was necessary to keep them healthy enough to work and grow food for all others.

Who is the ABAC?

The American Bioethics Advisory Commission was formed by American Life League in 1997 at the same time President Clinton established the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Under the Clinton Administration, the NBAC completely supported research on human embryonic persons and sanctioned the obtaining of stem cells from these tiny human persons, which results in their death. Under President Bush, the NBAC has been dissolved and the President is in the process of creating a bioethics council to be chaired by Dr. Leon Kass, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Chicago.

It is our hope that the American Bioethics Advisory Commission will be able to engage in dialogue with the new bioethics council. There are critical issues which must be discussed, including issues such as abortion, physician-assisted suicide, human cloning, gene therapy, adult and embryonic stem cell research and much more. The American Bioethics Advisory Commission exists to ensure that the full and inviolable dignity of the human person is always defended from the moment of creation to death.

The following members of the ABAC, representing a wide variety of fields, contribute to the Commission in a number of ways including issue analysis, media representation, and consultation with policy makers.

The American Bioethics Advisory Commission consists of twenty-one scholars living across the United States in various fields of academic expertise.

  • C. Ward Kischer, Ph.D., is Chairman of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission and is Professor Emeritus of Human Embryology at the University of Arizona School of Medicine at Tucson.
  • Raymond Gasser, Ph.D., is Professor of Human Embryology at LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans.
  • Michael Behe, Ph.D., is Professor of Biochemistry at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
  • Donald De Marco, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Canada.
  • Catherine Dowling, M.D., is former Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan.
  • Eugene Diamond, M.D., is Professor of Pediatrics at Loyola University School of Medicine in Chicago.
  • Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit.
  • John Grabowski, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
  • David Hargroder, M.D., is a transplant surgeon in private practice in Joplin, Missouri.
  • Stephen Hollingshead, Ph.D., is a political philosopher who resides in Houston, Texas.
  • Christopher Kahlenborn, M.D., is an internist who resides in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
  • Judith Hughes, M.D., is a psychiatrist, residing in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  • Nicoleta Manciu, M.D., is an anesthesiologist residing in St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • Bernard Nathanson, M.D., is an obstetrician-gynecologist who resides in New York City.
  • Professor Charles Rice, J.D., is Professor Emeritus of Law at Notre Dame University.
  • Philippe Schepens, M.D., is a surgeon residing in Belgium.
  • Frank Schmidt, M.D., is Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans.
  • William Toffler, M.D., is Professor of Family Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, Oregon.
  • Thomas Warner, M.D., is Professor of Pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • James Williams, M.D., is a family practitioner in Northern Virginia.
  • Fr. Joseph Howard, Jr., M.Div., Executive Director of the American Bioethics Advisory Commision, has degrees in Biology and Theology and is pursuing graduate studies in Moral Theology at Catholic University.

The ABAC Quarterly is a newsletter of the American Bioethics Advisory Commission, a division of American Life League. The purpose of the ABAC Quarterly is to provide ethical analysis on a variety of bioethical issues and technologies, grounded in both valid science and moral analysis showing respect for all human life from biological beginning to death.

Manuscripts submitted for publication should examine biomedical technology as related to the innate dignity of the human person. Manuscripts submitted for publication should include the original and 3 copies, be double-spaced, and 2-4 pages in length. The credentials and current position of the author(s) should also be included. Please address all correspondence to:

Fr. Joseph Howard
Editor-in-chief
The ABAC Quarterly
P.O. Box 1350
Stafford, VA 22555