1st Reported Human Cloning Crosses Moral Line

WORCESTER, Mass. — 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.

The company also explicitly denied that the embryo was a human life — despite long scientific evidence to the contrary.

It is the first time anyone has reported successfully cloning a human embryo, and biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology Inc., based in Worcester, Mass., said it hopes the experiment will lead to tailored treatments for diseases ranging from Parkinson's to juvenile diabetes, Reuters reported.

“Our intention is not to create cloned human beings, but rather to make lifesaving therapies for a wide range of human disease conditions,” Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology, known as ACT, said in a statement.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last summer to prohibit all forms of human cloning, a decision hailed by the Vatican. The Senate is now considering similar legislation.

The ACT announcement drew immediate criticism from those fearing the step would lead to more-widespread human cloning.

Federal law prohibits the use of taxpayer money for the cloning of human beings but ACT is a privately funded company and can do as it pleases, under current U.S. law.

ACT Vice President Joe Cibelli, who led the research, said his team had used classic cloning technology using a human egg and a human skin cell. They scraped the DNA out of the egg cell and replaced it with DNA from the nucleus of the adult cell.

The company did not say whether it had successfully removed embryonic stem cells from the cloned embryo.

‘Complete Failure’

But The New York Times reported Nov. 26 that ACT had actually tried to clone 19 different cells, by removing the cells’ original DNA and replacing it with genetic material taken from adult human cells.

However, none of the cloned individuals lived long enough to develop to the point that they could be deliberately killed so that their stem cells could be harvested. Some progressed no further developmentally than one or two cellular divisions, and none lived more than five days.

“It's a complete failure,” said Dr. George Seidel, a cloning expert at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the Times reported. Added Dr. Steen Willadsen, a cloning scientist in Windermere, Fla., “If one were to take a positive view of this, then one would say there are some problems with the approach they are taking — it hasn't worked.”

Regarding the question of whether human lives were being destroyed by his company's research, Dr. Michael West, ACT's chief executive, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that human life does not begin until after embryos develop further.

West also told the Times that since the cloned human embryos would not have been capable of developing fully, there should be no ethical objections to killing them to obtain their stem cells.

President Bush publicly disagreed Nov. 26, calling the creation of human embryos through cloning “morally wrong” and “bad public policy.”

“We should not as a society grow life to destroy it, and that's exactly what's taking place,” Bush commented about the ACT research during a Rose Garden appearance, CNN reported.

President Bush decided this summer that federal funds could be used for research on embryonic stem cells, but only on those that had been created before August, found at 11 different academic and private laboratories. The White House has also said repeatedly that all forms of human cloning should be banned.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he did not yet quite understand what ACT had done. “But it's disconcerting, frankly,'’ Daschle said on Fox News. “I think it's going in the wrong direction.’’

In an August interview, Bishop Elio Sgreccia, vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, talked about the related topic of stem cell research involving human embryos.

“In recent times,” he told Vatican Radio, “research has made it clear that in order to use ‘mother’ or stem cells, it is neither necessary nor opportune to produce embryos. In fact, stem cells found in adults are valid and safer than those taken from embryos.”

Therefore, he explained, “the pseudoscientific reason that justified the use of frozen or cloned embryos to extract stem cells has collapsed.”

Added Bishop Sgreccia, “All this demonstrates that ethical reasons, namely, that the human being can never be used as an instrument, or as medication, or produced for this end through cloning, always end by helping science, because where the ethical truth is found, the scientific truth is also found.”

(Zenit contributed to this story)

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Pope Francis waves to pilgrims during his Angelus address August 30, 2020.

Pope Francis: The Path to Holiness Requires Spiritual Combat

Reflecting on Sunday’s Gospel, the pope said that “living a Christian life is not made up of dreams or beautiful aspirations, but of concrete commitments, in order to open ourselves ever more to God's will and to love for our brothers and sisters.”