Abstract model of woman made from DNA molecules illustration courtesy Shutterstock.com (http://shutr.bz/10GYQXS)

Abstract model of woman made from DNA molecules illustration courtesy Shutterstock.com (http://shutr.bz/10GYQXS)

(RNS) News that scientists had for the first time recovered stem cells from cloned human embryos prompted dire warnings from religious leaders who say the research crosses a moral red line and could lead to designer babies.

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, point man for the U.S. Catholic bishops on bioethical issues, said Wednesday (May 15) that “this means of making embryos for research will be taken up by those who want to produce cloned children as ‘copies’ of other people.”

Human cloning “treats human beings as products,” O’Malley said on behalf of the bishops, “manufactured to order to suit other people’s wishes. … A technical advance in human cloning is not progress for humanity but its opposite.”

sean o'malley

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, point man for the U.S. Catholic bishops on bioethical issues. Photo by Gregory L. Tracy/The Pilot

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Critics argue there are other ethical techniques for creating stem cells that may help cure illnesses like Parkinson’s disease and diabetes and that the alternatives do not require cloning human embryos or destroying them. The most popular alternative is harvesting adult stem cells from the same patient.

“Given that science has passed cloning by for stem cell production, this announcement seems simply a justification for making clones, and makes reproductive cloning and birth of human clones more likely,” said David Prentice of the Family Research Council.

The cloning breakthrough was accomplished by scientists at Oregon Health & Science University and was announced Wednesday in the journal Cell. It followed 15 years of failed experiments and the infamous case of fraud when a South Korean biologist falsely claimed to have cloned human embryos.

To achieve their breakthrough, researchers had to refine techniques that had been used on monkey embryos: This time they were able to take DNA from a human patient and splice it into a human egg that had its DNA removed. The egg then grew into an early-stage embryo whose stem cells — a virtual genetic copy of the original patient — were then harvested.

Many Christian experts, especially Catholic bioethicists who believe life begins at conception, object to the destruction of human embryos for any purpose.

But they also say the new technique could lead to the cloning of replica human beings because it is similar to the process used to produce the cloned sheep named Dolly in 1996. That technique has since been used to clone a dozen other animal species.

The lead researcher on the team, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, said he does not believe the new technique could lead to cloned babies, in part because scientists have not yet been able to do that with cloned monkey embryos. The cloned primate embryos do not develop sufficiently to implant into the uterine wall.

But others say the innovation opens the door to human cloning scenarios that were once confined to the realm of science fiction.

“The reasons why primate-cloned embryos won’t implant are probably just technical barriers,” William Hurlbut, a consulting professor at Stanford University and former member of George W. Bush’s Presidential Council on Bioethics, told Christianity Today. “Science is clever at figuring out what goes wrong and fixing it.”

Hurlbut, who has worked with Mitalipov on developing ethically acceptable adult stem cell techniques, said the breakthrough will “mark the beginning of a whole new chapter of moral scientific controversy.”



    • I love your bright humor, David. I’m sure some cloned “animals” were believers, especially sheep since they’re so “dumb,” right? Guess that’s why they need a shepherd. And lots of believing humans have no problem with the science of cloning or any other science–like the fact that the earth rotates around the sun. Thanks, Mr. Galileo! And they agree we have no grounds for considering “the resurrection of the body” as more than metaphor.

  1. Let me get this straight – representatives of an organisation with a long history of fostering, encouraging and covering up child-rape think they have something useful to say on matters involving morality?

  2. Earold Gunter

    “A technical advance in human cloning is not progress for humanity but its opposite.” What irony that a representative of the most anti-progressive concept the dorld has ever know would have the audacity to state that. However, when you consider that he thinks that the creator of all has chosen him and his like to go to a paradise after this life, it doesn’t seem all that audacious……

  3. As usual, many religious leaders are floundering in the antiquity of their scriptures and refuse to learn or recognize any later, proven discoveries. Or as with Pope John Paul II, 352 years after his church violated the great scientist Galileo by home imprisoning him for the last eleven years of his life, an apology was issued for that violation of freedom and knowledge. Must we really wait so long for churches to stop obstructing the learning or admission of reality? The business of religion is myth. The business of science is provable fact. Take your choice, but don’t confuse them.

  4. Also, what’s gotten into political and religious leaders that they have decided to color the line of demarcation from their thought as red? I guess that’s because both politicians and religionists–and their clones–have shed so much red blood of those who dare for any reason–reason, mind you–to disagree with them.

  5. Pierre Cauchy

    We are no different than animals and can be cloned as such. Not only have we decoded the human genome, we are also starting to have a good understanding of how gene expression works – and it is complex, but like any problem in science, finite. Not so long ago this would have been deemed as “wicked” or “evil” but it is simply us being clever enough to understand how nature works, and that there is no “intelligent design”. Everything can be explained by evolution – thus random processes – in one way or another. Where is your “God” now???

    What religion is actually defending at all costs as “God” is actually the natural order we inherited from evolution. Like reproduction, but there is nothing “Godly” about it, it can be fiddled with like anything else. It represents the passing of our genes – which are not perfect, just adapted enough, but we actually know better.

    Or even social control (until the 18th century, the dominant/ alpha males being the religiously protected wealthy).

    Or intolerance to homosexuality, a mislead point, because yes although it exists in nature it is not selected by nature, but the point is that we are clever enough to free ourselves from natural selection and bring the 100% human parts of us forward, including love – for any individual, regardless of sex – free from natural pressures

    So yes, religion represents blind obedience to nature and of course there is a massive conflict of interest with science – because science can explain the origins of the universe and of life in a rational way – a thing defended as godly by religion.

    As Darwin put it himself – and there aren’t many great scientists who are religious because of the above – religion is an “advanced social behaviour at best” – in other words the animal part of us.

    If there hadn’t been people like him, e.g. Einstein etc., or people who stand up to the social classes established mainly by the natural order e.g. the american and french revolutions we would still be living in the middle ages.

    For now, we need both these sides of us: the animal one and the purely human one, the first one being selfish, conservative and purely capitalist, the second one being altruistic, open and socialist, because the world as it is today cannot work without either. One without the other does not work anymore, for the first one we have seen revolutions because of this, and for the second one we have seen the results of communism in modern society e.g. the USSR/Cuba etc. But in the long run we will probably have to make a choice, and given that we are distancing ourselves inexorably from the natural order brought by evolution – because we are now escaping natural selection, it will probably be the second option, once humanity and society have evolved enough. A Star Trek like future without money or abuse.



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