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– Fausto Gomez Op
We plan to develop the challenging topic Human Cloning in three pieces: the first will describe the main concepts and distinctions related to human cloning; the second will study reproductive human cloning from an ethical and theological perspective (the perspective of reason and ethics), and the third piece will evaluate therapeutic cloning from the viewpoint of anthropology and of Christian faith.
REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES AND CLONING
In 1974, when I was preparing a lecture on freedom and manipulation, this text struck me very much: “In the immediate future, can we expect the world scientific communities to practice permanent self-restraint, or will not someone somewhere begin a process that others shall follow? For through in vitro fertilization [FVF] or cloning it may begin to become possible to have asexual and, in a way, parentless reproduction of human beings, who will bear traits that their ‘creators’ choose to give them. Tomorrow ‘not being born of woman’ – a Shakespearean phrase – may apply, as Robert Francoeur likes to remind his readers, to a nine-month gestation in an artificial womb or in a sub-human surrogate mother; or the ‘it’ may be the product of asexual cloning that bypasses egg, sperm, genital intercourse, fertilization, and pregnancy. It may be possible to reproduce the least (or most) aggressive human types, to breed in or screen out conflict and physical strength or artistic temperament, to shape optimists or pessimists” (Martin E. Marty and Dean G. Peerman, 1973).
The immediate future of some of those then imagined possibilities is now. As we well know, reproductive technologies were successful in the case of Dolly the Sheep in 1996, and later on in other animals, including the first cloned dog Snuppy (2005). We are told that about five million people are IVF babies. We are aware, too, of the fraudulent human cloning research of Hwang Woo-Suk and his team. Certainty, the future is scientifically awesome and ethically worrisome. When anthropologically and ethically sound, scientific research and technological application is an incredibly promising window to a better future for humanity.
Cloning, in general, is a complex procedure or technique connected with reproductive technologies. It is an extreme form of artificial reproduction closely connected with, but different from in vitro fertilization (IVF). Basically, it is cell nucleus transfer.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF CELLS
A word on cloning of cells, and the different kinds of cells. Main division: stem cells and somatic cells. Stem cells are pluripotent or pluripotential cells which develop through early embryonic life, and “have the capacity to develop into any of the 200 and more different kinds of cells that make the adult human body” (William May). They are non-differentiated cells which can be manipulated, re-programmed and turned into different specific types of cells. Stem cells, therefore, can be turned into specific cells, which can replace or heal damaged concrete cells. Stem cells “can regenerate damaged tissues: their therapeutic potential is enormous” (A Fisher).
The source of stem cells used for research and experimentation may be from a human embryo, from the umbilical cord of the newly born and from the placenta, and also from the bone marrow, etc. Stem cells are also found in various tissues of an adult person.
Somatic cells, on the other hand, are specific cells (unipotent), such as a cell of the skin, nerves, brain, heart, etc. Somatic (body) cells make up the tissues and organs of an individual. Somatic cells can also be reprogrammed into adult stem cells (in fact, not only of adult but of persons of all ages). The therapeutic value is also immense, with no major ethical problem. It does not involve harming others, much less destroying the life of another.
In general, stem cells, somatic and re-programmed somatic cells open great therapeutic possibilities in cellular and regenerative medicine.
REPRODUCTIVE AND THERAPEUTIC HUMAN CLONING
The two basic purposes of human cloning are reproduction and biomedical therapy or research. The two kinds of human cloning, therefore, are reproductive cloning (in order to obtain the birth of a baby) and therapeutic cloning (directed to healing from some diseases or injuries by replacing or repairing damaged tissues and cells).
Reproductive human cloning is considered a synonym of “asexual reproduction of the entire human organism in order to produce one or more ‘copies’ which, from a genetic perspective, are substantially identical to the single original” (Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dignitas Personae, 2008). It refers, therefore, to the “re-production” (not pro-creation through sexual actuation of man and woman) in a laboratory of a viable embryo who will be substantially a copy (clone) of the one who provided the nucleus of the cell introduced into the de-nucleated oocyte (egg cell) of a woman. Reproductive human cloning is directed to “giving birth to a human being with particular, pre-defined characteristics” (Vatican’s New Charter for Health Care Workers, 2016). It implies in vitro fertilization. Certainly, the cloned individual is another individual person – a rational and emotional human being equal to all others. The “clone” (copy) can be of a man or of a woman.
Therapeutic embryonic human cloning refers to the “production of embryos” with the intention of destroying them and using their stem cells for research and experimentation. Their therapeutic value is really great, although their use for the possible healing of some current grave illnesses, such as heart disease, Parkinson, diabetes cannot be as of now scientifically proven. A point of substantial importance: when stem cells are taken, or “harvested,” or removed from an embryo, the embryo is destroyed in the process.
Therapeutic adult cloning “refers to the removal of a nucleus from almost any cell in an adult body.” Therapeutic adult cells cloning is also very effective in tissue transplants, blood cancer treatment, and damaged cells repair… In general, therapeutic adult cell cloning is already contributing most positively to the health of millions of people.
Hybrid cloning is human-animal embryo cloning, which means the genetic mixture of a human being and an animal. It entails the production of human-animal hybrids. The technique implies introducing human nuclei into animal oocytes (egg cells). The purpose is “to extract embryonic stem cells from the resulting embryos, without having to use human oocytes” (Dignitas Personae), which are scarce. It implies a “radical genetic and transgenic manipulation” (Anthony Fisher).
The human person is a rational and free human being, and therefore an ethical being: some human actions are good and some others are evil. How do we evaluate ethically and theologically human cloning? In our second piece, we shall evaluate reproductive human cloning from the moral and theological angles.