Britain Grants License for 'Clone and Kill' Research

LONDON — The Aug. 11 announcement that the United Kingdom's first license for “therapeutic” cloning of human embryos has been issued was greeted with shock and concern by Church leaders and pro-life campaigners.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority gave a team at Newcastle University the first license to create embryos and extract stem cells from them for research. Cloning human embryos to make babies is outlawed in the United Kingdom, but so-called therapeutic cloning, in which the embryo is cloned and killed in order to extract its stem cells, was made legal under strict guidelines in 2002.

The Newcastle scientists argue that stem cells — which have the potential to form any of the body's hundreds of different tissue types — hold the key to treating conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, as well as diabetes.

Professor Alison Murdoch, one of the Newcastle scientists, said, “We're absolutely thrilled. The potential this area of research offers is immensely exciting and we are keen to take the work we've done so far to the next level. Since we submitted our application, we have had overwhelming support from senior scientists and clinicians from all over the world and many letters from patients who may benefit from the research.”

Moral Blindness?

In a message sent to the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples that began Aug. 22 in Rimini, Italy, Pope John Paul II condemned the utilitarian mentality that underlies scientists' desire to create and kill human clones for research purposes.

“Well known, in fact, is that ‘sense of power which today's technical progress’ inspires in man, the temptation that man's work finds in itself the justification of its own objectives … (being) particularly strong,” the Pope said in a message published by the Vatican press office.

“According to this opinion, precisely because progress in scientific knowledge and technical means available to man pushes ever further the limits between what is possible to ‘do’ and what is still not possible, such progress will also end up pushing indefinitely the limit between the just and unjust,” the Holy Father said.

John Paul warned, “No one can fail to see the dramatic and desolating consequences of such pragmatism, which conceives truth and justice as something that can be shaped by the work of man himself.” An example of this, the Pope stressed, is “man's attempt to appropriate the sources of life through experiments of human cloning.”

Dr. Helen Watt, director of the Linacre Center for Healthcare Ethics, which is supported by the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, said she was appalled but not surprised by the news that the British cloning license had been granted.

“Therapeutic cloning creates a human life in exactly the same way as ‘reproductive’ cloning does,” she said. “The only difference is that the embryo is intended not for birth but for laboratory destruction. It is extraordinary that at a time when adult stem cells are already used to treat a whole range of diseases, the HFEA should consider it ‘necessary’ to create and destroy human clones.”

Said Watt, “Cells from early embryos are difficult to control and have not so far produced a single treatment. Even if treatments were discovered, many patients would have moral qualms about their use. Human rights are intrinsic to the human being: They do not depend on age, size or level of development. Human life should be welcomed and cherished — not manufactured and exploited.”

Anthony Ozimic from The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said that aside from being gravely immoral, “therapeutic” cloning would also open the door to the birth of cloned, parentless babies.

“Human cloning is dangerous because it will lead to so-called reproductive cloning,” Ozimic said. “Professor Severino Antinori, one of the scientists who wants to bring a cloned human being to birth, thanked Tony Blair for the government's legalization of so-called therapeutic cloning, because it has made the birth of a cloned baby one step closer.”

Professor Jack Scarisbrick, national chairman of the pro-life charity LIFE, said, “Let's be quite clear about what is at stake. Cloning involves the manufacture of a new kind of human being — one generated asexually and without traditional parentage — with the express purpose of destroying it once its stem cells are removed. This is manipulation, exploitation and trivialization of human life of a frightening kind.”

Added Scarisbrick, “The real reason for seeking this permission is probably as much about power, forbidden fruit and breaching taboos as curing diseases. It's runaway science. We should do as the French and Italians have just done — namely, forbid all cloning. That is the civilized thing to do. As the French have said, cloning is a crime against the human species.”

Adult Stem Cells

Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, head of the Bioethics Institute at Rome's Sacred Heart University, noted that the Church supports stem-cell research for therapeutic reasons when the stem cells come from adults or umbilical cords — in procedures that do not involve the killing or artificial creation of human life.

In fact, adult stem-cell research has already delivered a range of medical treatments for a variety of ailments — including leukemia, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, sickle-cell anemia, heart damage and corneal damage — whereas embryonic stem cells have not provided any clinical treatments.

Given the lack of progress in obtaining similar results with embryonic stem cells, Msgr. Carrasco de Paula suggested the primary motive of the group receiving the new license is to improve the process and outcome of artificial fertilization, not to find medical cures.

“Adult stem cells have already been used to repair damage after a heart attack, and they have been used to reproduce a liver in a mouse,” he said. “Most research is done with adult stem cells, anyway, and no one has a problem with them.”

Greg Watts writes from London.

(Zenit contributed to this report)