The scientists at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) of Worcester, Mass., who recently announced their plans to clone human embryos, say they want to grow the embryos only to the point where stem cells can be extracted.

This will require an embryo of at least a few hundred cells from which stem-cell lines can be created.

In cloning, scientists mechanically replace the nucleus of an egg with DNA from another cell. The reconstructed egg is then treated to make it divide and grow into an embryo. The firm thinks it will be able to pull this off within six months. The cloned embryos, which are the exact genetic duplicates of the donor of the DNA, will supply stem cells, the master cells that give rise to all other cells in the body.

The scientists hope that, from these primordial cells, they will be able to grow rejection-free body parts, create designer medicine and cure hundreds of diseases.

Those who are promoting this research want the public to believe that therapeutic embryonic cloning is morally justifiable because of the benefits that will be derived. Dr. Michael West, president of ACT, and others favoring the research claim that an embryo is merely “a ball of cells that could sit on the head of a pin.”

What they cannot say, however, is that, in the most scientific sense, anyone who knows how to read DNA would identify the embryo as human. To do so would be to acknowledge the truth — that they are talking about creating human life to harvest body parts and then destroying it.

To assuage people's sense of moral outrage over such a proposition, pro-cloning politicians and scientists are quickly coining obscurantist phrases such as “nuclear transplantation,” “therapeutic cellular transfer,” “activated egg,” “cleaving egg” and “ovasome.”

This is an example of utilitarian ethics, which teaches that the end justifies the means. It is a philosophy that threatens the very foundation of society because it effectively says that we are willing to sacrifice one life in order to improve or save other lives.

Once we cross this line, we submit to the notion that some human beings are more valuable than others. The reasonable person would then have to ask: Why stop at using only stem cells? Why not allow the clone to develop until its organs can be harvested? By trying to stamp out disease by any means necessary, we risk beginning the “compassionate” project of killing the diseased themselves, something which has already begun with selective abortion by parents of undesirable embryos.

Why stop at using only stem cells? Why not allow the clone to develop until its organs can be harvested?

The next step beyond therapeutic cloning is genetic enhancement. Some scientists hope to do this by adding other genes in the DNA before it is placed in the emptied egg to create “super” stem cells. This technology could very well change what it means to be human since we would not be the same creatures we were before. According to Francis Collins, who heads the Federal Human Genome Project, this could lead to the engineering of people without the variations humans have now, a possibility he calls “chilling.”

Cloning embryos and destroying them for therapeutic purposes denies the inherent worth and dignity of every human life. It has far-reaching consequences that attack the foundational belief of our society: the right to life and the freedom not to be used like slaves by an elite whose members can afford expensive therapies. Any benefits that may come from these experiments are far outweighed by the evil caused in their procurement.

We should never forget that Nazi scientists routinely experimented with human beings and perpetrated this century's most horrendous abuse of human dignity. To permit therapeutic embryonic cloning will so cloud our ethics and moral reasoning that we will effectively be taking up where the Nazis left off. Once we start down the road to creating life for utilitarian purposes, there is no bright line that separates the permissible from the unthinkable.

A society is often defined not so much by what it does as by those things it refuses to do. Since all enacted law is based on a moral idea, even bad law has a moral basis in false morality. Thus, it is vital that Congress ban cloning altogether. Although the House of Representatives passed a ban on human cloning in August, the Senate is not likely to take action until February or March of 2002. Sixty votes will be needed to allow a temporary ban.

All Americans should encourage their senators to support legislation outlawing human embryonic therapeutic cloning. Allowing the experimentation and murder to continue threatens us all.

Father Michael Orsi is chaplain of, and a research fellow at, Ave Maria Law School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.