Some truly frightening news was announced just after Thanksgiving. A Massachusetts company said Nov. 25 that it had cloned human embryos in order to try to mine them for stem cells, which in turn would be used to treat disease.
It is the first time anyone has reported successfully cloning a human embryo (apart from hybrid man-beast creatures that have been attempted), and Advanced Cell Technology, Inc., based in Worcester, Mass., said it hopes the experiment will lead to treatments for diseases ranging from Parkinson's to juvenile diabetes.
The news was terrible and frightening, going beyond even the serious ethical problems that are always associated with creating human life apart from a human couple.
For one thing, headlines should have read, not “First Human Embryos Cloned,” but “First Human Clones Killed.”
Human embryos may not look like babies, as fetuses do, but they are certainly human lives. Even modernist ethicists like Princeton's Peter Singer admit this. He says that, when he argues for killing embryos, he doesn't argue that they aren't human — he says he can't win that debate. Rather, he finds it necessary to argue that sometimes human beings have no right to life.
And so, a society that the Pope calls a “culture of death” has escalated far beyond the 1.3 million abortions reported every year, to countless deaths of embryos in labs around the world.
But there is another reason, apart from the deaths surrounding it, that this first cloning is particularly horrible. For many people, the only trouble with cloning is that it conjures eerie images of children who look exactly like one of their parents, with exactly the same character traits.
The reality is much more frightening: These clones aren't intended to become adults or even infants. They are created, rather, because some hope their cells can be useful in fighting diseases.
These human lives, in other words, are being harvested for their body parts as part of an experimental treatment for the living. That's as frightening as any science-fiction premise.
As Christians, we know that man does not have the last word in human affairs. The Lord of history is Jesus Christ — who once said, “What you do to one of the least of my brothers, you do unto me.”
Are not tiny embryos the “least of his brothers”?
And yet cloning is not as unusual as we may think. It is, after all, just a variation on the common theme of creating life in labs rather than in love.
Couples considering in vitro fertilization therapies need to consider this: Their act is not all that different from cloning. They also need to consider the serious moral implications involved:
E They are putting their embryos — their offspring — at grave risk.
E They are perpetuating a system that has had disastrous consequences. In one recent case, two divorced parents sued a surrogate mother to make her abort their child. Such cases point to a flaw at the heart of in vitro fertilization — and put dangerous new powers in judge's hands.
E Their child, rather than being conceived in love and growing in the womb of its mother, is created and developed outside the context of the marital union.
The Church, presciently, spoke out against cloning before it existed — and against in vitro fertilization before it was popular. Her prophetic wisdom, is the voice of the one who commands the world in no uncertain terms to love the least ones the most.
- December 9-15, 2001