From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Cloning of human embryos prompts questioning by churches

Date 3 Dec 2001 09:10:11 -0500

Note #6959 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Cloning of human embryos prompts questioning by churches

PC(USA)has addressed stem-cell research, but not cloning  

by Cedric Pulford 
and Chris Herlinger 
Ecumenical News International

LONDON and NEW YORK - A leading British bioethicist, Dr. Donald Bruce, has
called for a global treaty to ban human reproductive cloning following the
announcement that a U.S. company has produced cloned human embryos.

The announcement, by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) of Worcester, MA, has
prompted criticism from a number of church leaders and condemnation by U.S.
President George Bush who described the cloning as "morally wrong" and "bad
public policy."

The company said on Nov. 25 that its research was aimed at making
replacement cells for medical conditions including diabetes, cancer, AIDS,
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and that it was not trying to produce a cloned
human being. It also claimed that the embryos - which were later destroyed -
were "cellular life, not human life."
Bruce, who heads the Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology
project, said the church supported the limited use of human embryos for
therapeutic purposes, but absolutely rejected human reproductive cloning.

In 1997 Scotland made international headlines with the birth of Dolly the
sheep. She was the world's first mammal to be cloned from an adult stem
cell, a technique even more difficult than embryonic cloning.

The ACT announcement coincided with a law being rushed through the British
parliament to ban the implantation into women of cloned human embryos. The
measure was in response to fears that Britain might be the target of
scientists racing to be the first to produce a cloned human, after the High
Court ruled that human cloning was not illegal in the country.

Cloning, or nuclear transfer, replaces the nucleus of an egg with a donor
cell. The technique produces unspecialized "stem cells," with the aim of
growing replacement body parts having the same DNA as the patient.

Bruce told ENI: "The public's fears of where reproductive cloning might go
are exaggerated, but it's right to say we shouldn't do it."

He suggested that the cloning of human beings would remain ethically
unacceptable because it would involve killing the unsuccessful results of
scientists' experiments.

"Because of the variability of species, responsible scientists will never
get to the point of saying that judging from our work with animals we can
now have a go with humans," he said.

Asked whether the line could be held between therapeutic and reproductive
cloning, Bruce said: "Ethics change, and some issues are like heart
transplants, which most people now find acceptable. Other issues stick and
don't go away. I think reproductive cloning will be one of those issues."

Britain's two biggest churches, the (Anglican) Church of England and the
Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, in reactions obtained by ENI,
had divergent views about the cloning news from the United States.

Church of England spokesman Arun Kataria said the American experiments
seemed to be in line with approaches that the church supported, at least as
an interim measure. The experiments had a therapeutic intention, and did not
appear to be a move towards reproductive cloning.

Under British regulations more-specific research goals would have to be
stated, he added. The church wanted more research into adult stem cells,
where stem cells are produced without the use of embryos. Developments in
cloning embryos must not stifle research  in this area, Kataria said.

A Catholic spokeswoman said her church's view was contained in an article by
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, in the Daily
Telegraph newspaper.

He wrote that cloning embryos meant the destruction of human lives, which
was intrinsically immoral: "The embryo and the human adult are the same
organism at different stages of growth and maturity."

Cloning embryos, Murphy?O'Connor argued, was also unnecessary because of the
alternative of adult stem cells. This area of science "is advancing with
astonishing speed."

His remarks reflected Vatican thinking. The Holy See Press Office, in a
statement on Nov. 27, commented: "Notwithstanding the declared 'humanistic'
intentions of those who announce amazing cures through this method [cloning
embryos], a calm but firm evaluation is necessary that will show the moral
gravity of this project and motivate its unequivocal condemnation."

The Vatican described as "morally licit and valid from a scientific point of
view" the use of cells from adults, maternal blood or fetuses that were
aborted spontaneously.

In the United States, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society
joined the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the conservative
Christian Coalition, among other groups, at a Capitol Hill press conference
on Nov. 26 in calling for an outright ban on human cloning.

Jaydee R. Hanson, a staff executive of the Methodist board, told the press
conference that in 2000 the denomination had called for a "complete and
total ban" on the type of experiments being conducted by the New England
firm - banning not only the cloning of human embryos, but also "therapeutic,
medical, research and commercial procedures which generate waste embryos."

The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed legislation banning
human cloning, but the U.S. Senate has yet to act on it.

Richard Land, who chairs the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the
Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest Protestant denomination,
called such research "unconscionable."

"As Americans we must now decide whether we are going to be a country that
allows the destruction of our tiniest humans for the supposed benefit of
older and bigger humans," Land said in a statement. "Unless the answer is a
resounding 'no,' barbarous consequences will follow this downward spiral
into a new biotech dark age."

Some scientists not involved in the research suggested that since the
experiments only went to the stage of developing four to six cells that
survived for only a few hours, the actual scientific advance was minimal.

Glenn McGee, a bioethicist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania,
described Advanced Cell Technologies' announcement as "nothing but hype."
Quoted by the Associated Press, McGee said it was still not known what cells
the researchers had grown from a cloned embryo. "They are doing science by
press release," he said.

R. Alta Charo, who teaches law and medical ethics at the University of
Wisconsin, agreed, saying the firm's announcement "was more public relations
than science."

She said the company's announcement would have had more weight had its
experimental results produced cells that were "more developmentally stable."

"It doesn't strike me as something that tells me a lot more about cloning,"
she told ENI, saying the experiments surrounding the birth of Dolly the
sheep were far more significant scientifically.

Nonetheless, Charo said that while she understood the religious and ethical
concerns over embryonic cloning, she was in favor of such research because
of its implications for certain diseases and developing the tools for the
transplantation of certain tissue.

"I don't think it should be pursued for trivial reasons," she said, "but it
has real promise as a scientific tool."

PNS editor's note: In response to an Associated Press article that
incorrectly reported Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) policy on cloning and
stem-cell research, Associate for Theology Charles Wiley released the
following statement Nov. 28:

The announcement on November 25, 2001 that scientists at Advanced Cell
Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts had cloned human embryos for the
purpose of harvesting stem cells has spurred widespread reaction from
religious leaders in the United States and around the world.

The 213th General Assembly (2001) approved a policy enunciating guidelines
for stem cell research.  This policy affirms the Presbyterian church's
"support for stem cell research, recognizing that this research moves to a
new and challenging frontier."  Stem cell research shows great promise
because "The use of stem cells has far-reaching possibilities including
'cell therapies.' Stem cells stimulated to develop into specialized cells
could be used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, spinal
cord injuries, stroke, burns, heart disease, and diabetes. Using stem cells
could reduce the dependence on organ donation and transplantation."

Together with its affirmation of the possibilities of stem cell research,
the policy raises moral concerns stem cell research.  It therefore states
three limitations on stem cell research using embryonic sources:

1) "The interests or goals to be accomplished by using human embryos [must]
be compelling and unreachable by other means."

2) Embryos should not be created for the express purpose of research. 
"Embryos resulting from infertility treatment to be used for such research
must be limited to those embryos that do not have a chance of growing into
personhood because the woman has decided to discontinue further treatments
and they are not available for donation to another woman for personal or
medical reasons, or because a donor is not available."

3) "The sale or commercialization of embryonic tissue should be legally
Such guidelines, especially guideline two, would prohibit the creation of
human clones for the purpose of harvesting stem cells, the procedure
underway by Advanced Cell Technologies.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has never affirmed human cloning for either
reproductive or therapeutic purposes.  In fact, the church to this point has
not taken a position on human cloning, although past policies on related
issues would direct extreme caution in such endeavors.
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