National Catholic Register


Only Catholics Can Tell You Why Cloning Is Wrong

BY Jim Cosgrove

September 16-22, 2001 Issue | Posted 9/16/01 at 2:00 AM


There's nothing like a bout with moral chaos to clarify the mind.

This dawned on me while participating in an Internet chat room populated by scientists, mathematicians, theologians and philosophers, almost all of whom have PhDs in their respective fields, and all of whom are interested in science's relationship with religion.

When the subject of human cloning came up, it became the question of the week. Now it's close to a month and we're still not off the subject. Every one of these very thoughtful, serious-minded folks is absolutely opposed to cloning humans. But being repulsed by something is not the same as having an argument against it. They know this, and are desperately scrambling to formulate some intellectual framework for their feelings.

Some question whether cloning is, morally speaking, any different than producing an identical twin. Some say it assaults the dignity of the person because the cloners are designing clonees. Some are unable to find any difference between cloning and in vitro fertilization, and since they accept the latter, they are stuck, unable to make any moral headway against cloning.

All want to oppose cloning, but the arguments they present are—by their own admission—only half-convincing. The one argument that is absolutely decisive is unavailable to almost all of them. It was made more than 30 years ago, before cloning was even thought of as a moral problem: Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae.

You see, almost all of my friends in the chat room are Protestant. They are all quite bright, but they are unable to give their reasoning on this issue any real traction.

I'm not a triumphalist, mind you, but, as a convert to the Catholic faith, I'd have to be blind not to notice that they are suffering the effects of removing themselves from the solid ground held by all Christians until 1930.

In that year, the Anglicans (at their Lambeth Conference) began to teach that contraception was morally permissible and biblically sound. In the years following, virtually all other Protestants came to follow the Anglicans’ lead.

The Catholic Church has stood alone in teaching that, if you separate the procreative and unitive aspects of sexuality, then there is no longer any basis for discerning right from wrong in either procreation or sexuality.

Unfortunately, many Catholics have rejected their Church's teachings on this issue, remaining in the Church while embracing the Protestant view of contraception. And so today the procreative and the unitive aspects of sexuality wander, separated from each other, throughout our culture.

By severing the unitive aspect of sexuality from the procreative, and letting the unitive run wild in a state of amoral abandon, we have given birth to every imaginable form of sexual barbarism (and not a few previously unimaginable forms). If the only goal of sexuality is merely uniting—what young people today call “hooking up”—then what can be objectively wrong with the “uniting” taking place between two males, or two females, or a man and an animal?

Meanwhile, letting the procreative aspect of sexuality run untethered from the unitive is leading to every imaginable technological innovation for producing human beings. An astonishing amount of time, energy and resources are being expended to find ways to perpetuate the species by means other than the uniting of a man and a woman.

This is all very obvious to Catholics, or should be. In fact, the very first time the question arose, “Well, what is wrong with cloning?” in the science-and-religion chat room, one of the few Catholics shot back: “It separates the procreative and unitive aspects of human sexuality, and therefore contradicts the true dignity of the human person.” He wasn't proselytizing; I doubt he had to think for 10 seconds to come up with the answer. It seemed so obvious—to him.

But just as quickly, one of the other members remarked, “That is not a premise shared by all Christians, certainly not all Protestants, who, as I do, accept contraception and in vitro fertilization, and so we need to look elsewhere if ...”

But they have been looking ever since, and no one has come up with anything very convincing. They keep trying to forge an argument against cloning based on its risks and bad effects. But arguing only from the effects of something is a sure sign that you have either already lost the argument or are well on your way to losing it. The fact is, evil actions may have all kinds of beneficial effects: Do not proponents of cloning argue for the undeniably good effect of producing babies? The problem is that we can never do evil for the sake of some perceived good.

Cloning is not the cause of the evils my Internet friends perceive. Cloning is itself merely an effect of a prior cause—severing the procreative from the unitive aspects of sexuality.

Since there is only one cause of cloning, there is only one cure. But it is not an easy cure for those who have built houses halfway down the slippery slope. You cannot accept in vitro fertilization and reject cloning; therefore, you cannot remove the horrid specter of cloning without first rejecting in vitro fertilization. But you cannot accept contraception and reject in vitro fertilization—as should be obvious from how quickly the acceptance of contraception led to in vitro fertilization. Therefore, you cannot remove in vitro fertilization without rejecting contraception. And so, like it or not, to reject cloning, you must reject contraception.

I am hoping that, out of the chat-room frustration, out of their bracing bout with moral chaos and utter moral confusion, my friends will come to clarity of mind. They had better hurry. This November, on a boat sailing international waters, Italian embryologist Severino Antinori will implant cloned embryos in the wombs of 200 women.

Sever ino? Charles Dickens couldn't have come up with a better name.

Ben Wiker, a fellow with the Discovery Institute, teaches philosophy of science at Franciscan University of Steubenville.