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 CNS Story:

BIOETHICS-CLONING Dec-12-2008 (730 words) Sidebar to BIOETHICS-INSTRUCTION. xxxi

Human cloning is immoral, Vatican reiterates in new document

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican's new instruction on bioethics strongly condemns human cloning, whether performed to obtain embryonic stem cells or to produce a genetically predetermined child.

Human cloning already was declared immoral by a similar Vatican instruction in 1987. Since then, however, cloning at the embryo stage has moved from the theoretical to the practical, and the effort to produce living human beings through cloning has made significant progress.

The new Vatican document, "Dignitas Personae" ("The Dignity of a Person"), issued Dec. 12, said human cloning embodies many of the moral and ethical problems found in modern biological technology.

It said human cloning falls into two main categories: reproduction, in order to obtain the birth of a baby; and medical therapy or research, in order to produce embryonic stem cells with a predetermined genetic patrimony that can overcome the problem of immune-system rejection.

At a basic level, it said, all human cloning is intrinsically illicit because it seeks to produce a new human being without a connection to the act of conjugal love in marriage.

More specifically, it said, reproductive cloning is seen by some as a way to obtain control over human evolution, to select human beings with superior qualities or to produce a child who is a copy of another. The document said these justifications overlook the offense to human identity and human dignity that cloning represents.

"If cloning were to be done for reproduction, this would impose on the resulting individual a predetermined genetic identity, subjecting him ... to a form of biological slavery from which it would be difficult to free himself," it said.

"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," it said.

The document went on to state that the originality of every person is a consequence of the particular relationship that exists between God and a human being from the first moment of his existence.

Therapeutic cloning is even more serious from the ethical point of view, the document said.

"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," it said.

The instruction referred briefly, and with caution, to new techniques in human cloning that are aimed at producing stem cells of an embryonic type, but without implying the destruction of true embryos. The Vatican document said scientific and ethical questions remain about the status of the "product" obtained in this way.

Until these doubts have been clarified, it said, the statement of the 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life") must be kept in mind: "What is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo."

The advances in developing techniques for producing embryo-like stem cells without creating or destroying human embryos have drawn tentative statements of support from some church experts. The techniques include "altered nuclear transfer" and "oocyte-assisted reprogramming," which, using an unfertilized human egg and the nucleus of another cell, replace or reprogram genes so that pluripotent stem cells -- those that can develop into any bodily tissue -- are produced, but not a human embryo.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Pro-Life Activities, said a newer technology -- induced pluripotent stem cells, through which ordinary body cells can be coaxed into becoming any cell in the body, as embryonic stem cells can be -- "is not a target of any of the concerns raised" in the Vatican document.

He also said the altered nuclear transfer and oocyte-assisted reprogramming techniques "have lost a lot of attention" in the scientific world with the development of induced pluripotent stem cells, which are "less controversial and more effective" than the other technologies.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Nancy Frazier O'Brien in Washington.


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