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BY John Haas
What may be the next significant product for consumption? Cloned human beings.
It should come as no surprise. At least not in the United States, where every aspect of our culture seems increasingly to be driven by commercialism—or consumerism—as John Paul II would put it.
A Chicago physicist recently announced his plans for opening a for-profit clinic to enable childless couples to clone themselves. It could become a real money-maker for him, since the demands for assistance in overcoming infertility become stronger all the time. In 1988 about 5% of the women who wanted to have babies could not. That figure had doubled by 1995.
The one law that seems universally acknowledged in the United States—the law of supply and demand—would almost guarantee the idea's success.
Richard Seed, the entrepreneur in question, is a pioneer in “reproductive technologies.” More than a decade ago he reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association the successful transfer of a fertilized egg from a fertile woman to an infertile one. He is confident he can succeed in cloning a human being and has set for himself the goal of being open for business within 18 months. No human being has ever yet been cloned, but attempts are being made.
If Dr. Seed is successful in setting up his “clinic,” a married couple could become parents of clones of themselves. The children would not be “their” children and would carry the traits of their isolated, individuated selves; they would not be the embodiment of their mutual love, the enfleshed union of their marital union. Such actions would more feed a dangerous narcissism than contribute to deepening the common love of husband and wife.
In such a scenario, homosexuals would soon be offering to pay to have themselves “reproduced” without the benefit of— or, in their minds, interference from—members of the opposite sex. At the turn of the century, homosexuality was referred to as sexual inversion. In being erotically attracted to members of one's own sex, one loved another person like oneself. There was fundamentally no turning outward to another person radically different from oneself (that is, the opposite sex), but rather a turning in on oneself, a kind of self love. In cloning themselves, homosexuals would reach a previously unimagined “inversion” as they bestowed affection and tenderness on—a clone of themselves.
Virtually all cultures, no matter how primitive, have had consanguinity laws, that is, one may not marry or have sexual relations with close blood relatives. There was virtually an instinctual awareness that such “breeding practices” would be very unhealthy for the species. They were right, of course. And they were right without ever having heard of genetics.
Whether it occurred in isolated mountain villages or among the most noble or royal families, in-breeding resulted in a weakening of the gene pool with the births of children suffering a range of abnormalities from mental impairment to hemophilia. As one scholar, Dr. E. Furton puts it, “diversity of genetic material is nature's safeguard against disease and biological disaster.” It is apparently part of God's plan that “opposites attract.” Yet cloning would be the ultimate in “in-breeding.”
The prospect of a burgeoning U.S. business in human cloning is certainly disconcerting. It would signal yet another dehumanizing of human life, which is increasingly characteristic of our society. Children would not arise out of a mutual act of self-giving by a husband and wife in love. Rather they would be “manufactured” to suit the desires of individuals.
Some may find comfort and reassurance in the fact that President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission called human cloning “morally unacceptable” and proposed laws against it. Regrettably, such comfort would be ungrounded. First of all, the Commission did not provide cogent reasons why cloning would be morally unacceptable and appeared to be following opinion polls that indicated such was the position of most Americans. But we all know how fickle public opinion can be.
Secondly, there is the fact that the Commission and the Clinton Administration are in reality not opposed to human cloning. They are opposed to allowing cloned human beings come to term, that is, to be born. They have not taken a stand against the engendering of new human life through cloning techniques. Consequently robust entrepreneurs anything like Dr. Seed are able to engage in the truly difficult work of initiating human life through cloning—as long as they kill it afterwards.
And who knows? Perhaps by the time the technique is perfected, there will no longer be any government opposition to allowing human clones to be born.
The Catholic Church, however, continues to decry the manufacturing of human beings and laments the shades of narcissism, inversion, and genetic irresponsibility found in cloning. It reminds us in the 1987 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life), that married couples do not have a “right” to a child as they do to private property, for example. They do not “own” or “manufacture” other human beings. The marital embrace is not a manufacturing technique. What married couples do have is the right to the marriage act that may or may not, through the involvement of God, give rise to new human life.
According to God's plan, human life is to arise out of the unfathomable and mysterious depths of the human and divine love of husband and wife, not through manipulative techniques that diminish a sense of what each human life is—the enfleshed image and likeness of God, which rightly calls forth feelings of reverential awe.
Dr. John Haas is president of the Pope John Center for the Study of Ethics in Health Care in Boston, Mass.