"What does it mean to be Me?"
Reflection on Cloning
Fr. Frank Pavone
Priests for Life
The controversy over human cloning has furiously erupted this week as a
result of statements by Richard Seed.
Whatever he can or cannot do, this provides an opportunity and an obligation
for everyone to engage in clear thinking and decisive action.
First of all, the scientific considerations of cloning should not be
oversimplified. It is fraught with far more complexity and nuance than can be
conveyed in any news report.
Secondly, the issue raises again the question, "What does it mean to be me?"
Value is intimately tied to uniqueness. If someone gives you a statue and tells
you it is the only one of its kind in the world, you take a lot of extra care
not to drop it. What would be the psychological consequences for a person to
know he or she is a biological "copy" or has been "copied" by cloning? How does
it feel to have to put on a form that asks for your parents’ names the response,
As a society, we produce, buy, sell, and throw away so many things that we
are easily tempted to do the same to human beings. We forget the difference
between a person and a thing. Things are made; persons are begotten. Cloning
disregards the dignity of the human person and the dignity of human procreation.
It enters the arena of making people. Human cloning should be prohibited by law.
We are not opposed to research, including cloning, in the vegetable and
animal kingdoms. But the human person is different. The human person has a
higher dignity, which we ignore at our own peril.
The Priests for Life website is carrying a section with a reflection on
cloning from the Pontifical Academy for Life, as well as pastoral tools for
clergy to use in preaching and teaching on this subject. The website is at
Preaching and Teaching on Cloning
Priests for Life members have already had some significant success in
preaching and teaching why human cloning is wrong. We provide here some
resources and observations to assist the clergy to teach on this topic, and to
assist the general public to better understand it.
Donum Vitae Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and the
Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day (February 22,
1987) issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Reflections on human
cloning (a reflection by the Pontifical Academy
for Life, published in L’Osservatore Romano on July 9, 1997)
Gaudium et Spes Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World, Second Vatican Council
Evangelium Vitae The Gospel of Life
Key themes and observations for teaching and preaching
1. Cloning, or making an exact biological/genetic replica of a living being,
captures the imagination of people. In this process, the scientific complexities
and uncertainties of such an activity, especially on humans, can be easily
Cloning, properly speaking, involves removing the nuclear material from a
donor egg and replacing it with the nuclear material of a cell of the organism
being cloned. Theoretically, then, you end up with a fertilized ovum with
exactly the same genetic material as the organism from which you took the
nucleus...except that there was no process of fertilization by the union of
sperm and ovum.
In the highly publicized case of the sheep Dolly, cloned in Edinburgh last
year, this process of inserting genetic material into an egg was done 277 times.
Only eight (8) of the 277 began to grow as embryos, and only one of those eight
2. What view do we take regarding scientific research as such? We avoid
two extremes. We do not say that research is bad or that we cannot intervene in
nature in any way. At the same time, we do not say that we are permitted to do
anything we want or are able to do. What we do say is that legitimate research
should take place for its proper purposes, and within its proper limits.
Part of what defines those limits is the nature and dignity of the human
Those who disagree with the Church's position will sometimes claim that the
Church is opposed to human progress and tries to hinder research. This is not
the case at all.
"The dignity of scientific research consists in the fact that it is one of
the richest resources for humanity’s welfare. Moreover, there is a place for
research, including cloning, in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, wherever it
answers a need or provides a significant benefit for man or for other living
beings, provided that the rules for protecting the animal itself and the
obligation to respect the biodiversity of species are observed. When scientific
research in man's interest aims to cure diseases, to relieve suffering, to solve
problems due to malnutrition, to make better use of the earth's resources, it
represents a hope for humanity, entrusted to the talent and efforts of
scientists." --Reflections on human cloning, Section 4, Pontifical Academy
The Second Vatican Council, in Gaudium et Spes #36, discusses
the autonomy of natural sciences, and explains that this autonomy means that
science has its own proper characteristics and modes of activity, but does not
mean that it can be independent of the Creator and the truth about creation.
Just because we are able to do something does not mean we should do it. The
moral dimension needs to be carefully considered. Some today do not believe
there are any moral dimensions to our technological capabilities.
3. What's wrong with cloning? Cloning denies the dignity
of the human person who is cloned, and the dignity of procreation.
How do we communicate this to the public in understandable terms?
This is a matter not just of reasoning, but of helping people capture an
appreciation of human dignity. The Holy Father has said in The Gospel of Life
that to do this, we need to help people have a "contemplative outlook" on human
life and on the world. An illustration of this is to consider how we might look
at a tree. One attitude sees the tree for how we can use it, how much lumber
can be obtained from it, how valuable it is in commercial terms. This is an
outlook stressing usefulness, and seeing the tree as an object to be
manipulated and used. In this case, nothing is wrong with that, of course. On
the other hand, the contemplative outlook on the tree would be to see it
and be moved by its beauty...to stand there and enjoy it...to appreciate how
its beauty can lift our minds and emotions to a sense of wonder, joy, gratitude.
It's the same tree that the merchant measures. The difference in the two
approaches is not in the tree, but in the person seeing the tree, and the
difference is great.
We need the same contemplative outlook on human persons. People can be
"useful" but should never be used. The key concept here is that a
person is not a thing. Things are created, measured, bought, sold, and
thrown away. The ultimate value of a person, however, is never his or her
usefulness. The person has a dignity and destiny that goes beyond this
world, and a value that goes beyond his or her characteristics, qualities, and
A person, therefore, has a right to be conceived and born as a person, not
as a product of some laboratory intervention or technique. Human
procreation, by the union of husband and wife in a love open to life, has a
meaning inscribed by God. It is not just a mechanism to arrive at a desired
end, the "production" of a child. Were this the only meaning of procreation, one
could ask why we can’t take other means to get to the same end.
But human procreation does have its own meaning. The child is conceived by
the union of
two persons, for the child is a person, too, equal in dignity to the parents.
The parents do not own the child, nor, strictly speaking, do they have a "right"
to a child. The child is a gift, and from the first instant of conception, is
equal in dignity to every other human being. Cloning violates this equality
of all human beings by the way in which it subjects the new person’s origins to
a manipulative scientific process. Were a person to come about in this way, that
person would still have human dignity...but that is precisely the point. It is
because of the human dignity which the person always has that he/she has the
right to be conceived and born in a natural, human fashion.
4. Who am I?
Cloning raises serious questions about the unique individuality of
human beings. We speak here, of course, of the cloning of the body. The
soul can never be cloned. It is always created directly by God. In his/her
totality, therefore, there is always a uniqueness about every human person.
But biologically and psychologically, cloning brings challenges to that
uniqueness unlike anything has before.
First of all, it is helpful to point out to people that value is very
closely tied to uniqueness. Take the example of someone giving you a
statue and telling you that this is the only statue of its kind in the whole
world. You will treat that statue with far greater value that if it were
bought at the local gift shop where there are a hundred others just like it. You
would take extra care to see that this unique statue did not get lost or
damaged. People, too, value and are valued for their unique individuality.
What would happen to our sense of the value of the human individual if
cloning were to occur? How would the cloned persons feel? How would a group of
cloned persons be regarded by the rest of society?
What, furthermore, becomes of human family relationships? Cloning would make
it possible to be your mother’s twin sister, or your grandmother’s daughter.
One, in fact, could be one’s own parent! There is little difficulty at the
present time convincing people that these are undesirable scenarios. Yet unless
the reasons that they are undesirable are clearly discussed and taught, we may
find ourselves facing the day when these bizarre things are a reality.
5. A larger picture
Bioethics in the 21st century will be marked by questions like the one we are
considering here. It is necessary to help people see this as part of a larger
picture. That picture includes things like
A) the effort to halt the aging process and achieve bodily immortality in
this world. Scientists have made a number of discoveries regarding enzymes
responsible for aging, and are feverishly working toward the goal of controlling
the aging process. What would that mean for the structure of society? Who would
decide what people could have access to a life of, say, 500 years on earth?
B) the manipulation of the human genome in order to enhance and suppress
certain qualities and abilities. What dangers can result from such manipulation?
What undesirable mutations can be passed on to future generations? Nobody knows.
C) the production and sale of artificial organs, and the production of
artificial intelligence. This can eventually lead to the production of some kind
of imitation-human beings who would be robots, designed to do work for the rest
of us. What would be the status of such creatures?
D) the total control of fertility, in such a way that the current normal
status of being fertile unless one is rendered infertile would be reversed, and
infertility would be the norm.
These and other incredible-sounding scenarios are being seriously discussed.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, has commented extensively on such topics, giving a
reliable bioethical approach to them.
The Church cannot afford to be behind the rest of the world in understanding
these trends. Indeed, the Church needs to be the force in the world steering us
clear of such abuses of human knowledge and dignity. It is necessary, therefore,
to undertake an immediate, universal, and vigorous effort, to understand these
phenomena and to preach and teach what the Gospel requires of us as a response.
When the culture of abortion was being fashioned in the United States, Dr.
Nathanson points out that the Church was not ready for a proper response. Such a
scenario must not happen again with the bioethical challenges of the 21st
century. In a real sense, we can see how things like cloning and other
bioethical horrors on the horizon stem from an abortion mentality. If, after
all, the human embryo, fetus, and infant can be treated as garbage, which is
exactly what abortion does, then why can’t they be manipulated in other ways?
The root question in all these issues is, Who is the human person? What does
it mean to be human? Abortion has answered that question, and the answer is
being applied across the board.
Faced with the bizarre possibilities of the manipulation of our species, we
are back in the Garden of Eden, faced with the temptation to be like gods, to do
whatever we please. Backers of cloning sometimes speak of using it to gain some
kind of physical immortality for themselves.
But Christians know a better way to be like God. They know a surer road to
immortality. It is the Gospel message. The time has come to proclaim it with
greater vigor than ever. The very survival of the species depends on it.
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