the disappearance of direct parenthood and denial of the family
Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
August 8, 2003
The Pontifical Council for the Family considers every attempt to
clarify the challenge human cloning represents to be appropriate,
aware of the importance of this issue and with a view to the
imminent resumption of work to draw up an International Convention
against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings by the United
Nations Organization. It is a question of contributing to a
satisfactory presentation of the problem, of pointing out the
negative ethical aspects and meanings of human cloning which are
contrary to the dignity of the person and the family. This is the
aim of this presentation, which attempts to set out some aspects of
cloning to inform the general public.
For several decades now, a whole series of biological techniques
have been continuously developing. Their application to human
procreation has surfaced many ethical problems and increasingly
points to the need for an integral anthropology of the human being
and a renewed approach to the role of the family for humanity. In
particular, recent attempts to clone a human being have raised
fundamental questions regarding the family: what it means to be
parents and to be a child, the dignity of the human embryo, and the
truth and meaning of human sexuality. Today, the slow and subtle
dissociation taking place between the concepts of human life and
that of the family, which actually is the natural place where life
originates and develops, is one of the most nefarious consequences
of the culture of death.
Indeed, as the Instruction Donum Vitae, published by the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, affirms: "The human
person must be accepted in his parents' act of union and love; the
generation of a child must therefore be the fruit of that mutual
giving which is realized in the conjugal act, wherein the spouses
cooperate as servants and not as masters in the work of the Creator
who is Love. In reality, the origin of a human person is the result
of an act of giving. The one conceived must be the fruit of his
parents' love. He cannot be desired or conceived as the product of
an intervention of medical or biological techniques; that would be
equivalent to reducing him to an object of scientific technology".
The troubling possibility of the cloning of human beings for
"reproductive" purposes through the technical substitution of
responsible procreation is contrary to the dignity of sonship. Even
more troubling are the pressing demands of groups of researchers for
the legalization of cloning in order to subject the human embryos
"produced" to manipulation and experimentation, and subsequently to
destroy them. This state of affairs highlights a serious
deterioration, both in the recognition of the dignity of life and of
human procreation and in the knowledge of the irreplaceable and
fundamental role and value of the family, not only for the
individual but for all humanity.
1. Cloning, a possibility open to modern biology
The term "cloning" refers to the technique used frequently in
biology to reproduce cells and micro-organisms, both vegetable and
animal, and, more recently, to reproduce the sequences of genetic
information contained in biological material, such as fragments of
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which contain a wide range of codified
nuclear genetic information. It is necessary to complete this
description with a more exact definition of the cloning technique in
order to gain a more adequate knowledge of its nature.
Regarding its purposes, cloning is a technical procedure of
reproduction through which the genetic material of a cell or
organism (vegetable or animal) is manipulated in order to obtain an
individual or a colony of individuals, each one identical to the
first. What distinguishes cloning from other similar techniques is
that in cloning, reproduction takes place without sexual union
(asexual), and without fertilization or the union of the gametes (agametic);
it results in a group of individuals biologically identical to the
donor who provided the nuclear genetic heritage.
The individuals obtained by cloning are called clones, a term used
to indicate that each and every one has the same genetic
information; they are not, therefore, descendents only from their
progenitor (that is, there has been no genetic sexual combination of
their progenitors). This is consequently a type of reproduction that
can artificially replace - in the animal species (of sexual
reproduction) - natural fertilization or the union of gametes (the
cells through which reproduction naturally occurs), with the
resulting advantages, defects and dangers.
Taking its technical realization into consideration, "cloning" in
the strictest sense, on the basis of the prospect of the procedure
used, means reproduction obtained through so-called "nuclear
When scientists allude to cloning in the strict sense of the term,
they usually identify it with nuclear transfer: "Fertilization
properly so-called is replaced by the "fusion' of a nucleus taken
from a somatic cell of the individual one wishes to clone, or from
the somatic cell itself, with an oocyte from which the nucleus has
been removed, that is, an oocyte lacking the maternal genome. Since
the nucleus of the somatic cell contains the whole genetic
inheritance, the individual obtained possesses - except for possible
alterations - the genetic identity of the nucleus' donor. It is this
essential genetic correspondence with the donor that produces in the
new individual the somatic replica or copy of the donor itself".
Also known as "cloning" (or "semi-cloning" or other such terms) are
broader and less appropriate techniques of asexual and agametic
reproduction that in some ways resemble nuclear transfer, especially
because of the results they obtain: a genetically identical
descendence. These include techniques such as artificial
parthenogenesis or embryonic fission.
There are no particular ethical objections to cloning non-human
specimens (to obtain offspring from them) and biological material
(for various uses) if it is responsibly carried out, just as there
are no ethical objections to the traditional and sometimes ancient
horticultural practices that used this sort of technique which,
moreover, has considerable advantages. The use of cloning in zoology
would undoubtedly bring great benefits. Improvements, for example,
in the reproduction of domestic animals, a reduction in the
production costs of certain types of meat, the possible application
of cloning to save species from becoming extinct, progress in the
conditions of experimentation and research in pharmacology, all make
it advisable to continue research by applying cloning techniques to
In spite of this, it must be pointed out that these techniques are
still in the trial stage and their results must be carefully
assessed. Could they have unforeseen consequences in the future?
Could they, for example, produce dangerous genetic malformations,
today unknown or insufficiently known? To what extent might these
involve alterations to the ecology in the medium or long term? Could
uncontrolled recourse to cloning lead to unleashing new diseases and
2. Human "reproductive' or "therapeutic' cloning
By now it is common knowledge that attempts are being made to apply
cloning to "produce" human beings, to use them in research and
eventually, in medical treatment. The mass media, science fiction
and a certain type of popular literature have contributed to raising
false expectations about cloning, given its actual technical
possibilities. Despite this, however, it is certain that (more or
less scientifically exact) investigations and hypotheses have been
advanced that aim to apply cloning experiments to the human being.
Recently, this fact has caught the attention of public authorities
worldwide, as well as of those charged with a special responsibility
for the common good.
Two facets of the problem of cloning human embryos, as it appears
today, have acquired a special prominence: "reproductive" cloning
and "therapeutic" cloning (or for the purpose of scientific
research). The difference between the two is seen in the purpose for
which the cloning is intended: the complete development of an embryo
through implantation in the uterus is the goal of "reproductive"
cloning, whereas "therapeutic" cloning requires the use of the
embryo in its pre-implantation stage in research for therapeutic
ends. Therefore, the purposes of cloning would be:
1. To obtain human offspring and to plan a more effective technique
for assisted procreation, with greater and better possibilities of
application for certain couples ("reproductive" cloning).
2. To obtain, through this technique, what are known as "synthetic"
embryos or "cell clusters" (in its earliest stages, every cell of
the human embryo is totipotent or multipotent), and hence to extract
stem cells without the implantation of the embryo in the maternal
uterus. The stem cells extracted, properly checked, have the
potential to develop into specific cells: nerve, cardiac, muscle,
liver cells, etc. ("therapeutic" cloning or cloning for the purposes
of scientific research).
3. Toward the simultaneous global prohibition of all human cloning?
It is obvious that the application of science to the area of human
procreation concerns all society, and not solely the scientific
community. Thus, it was not long before work began on drafting
legislation in which, without coercing the legitimate development of
science, the ethical and legal boundaries of its application would
be defined once and for all and the possible cloning of human beings
forbidden. In recent years, laws have been passed in some countries
in which human "reproductive" cloning is strictly forbidden, while
research on human cloning has so far been permitted, on condition
that it is intended for research and therapeutic use (as in the
United Kingdom). In other countries, instead, every kind of cloning
has been banned (Germany), or parliamentary bills have been
introduced with a view to prohibit any type of cloning (United
States). Concern about this topic is undoubtedly growing and efforts
have been redoubled to obtain the prohibition of human cloning, not
only at a national level but also through the instruments of
What prompted this debate was the determination to forbid human
reproductive cloning. Since 1993, the International Bioethics
Committee has been involved in the issue. The General Conference of
UNESCO approved a "Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and
Human Rights", later adopted by the General Assembly of the United
Nations in 1998, which states that cloning for reproductive purposes
is contrary to human dignity.
The 56th General Assembly of the United Nations (12 December 2001)
decided to set up a Committee that would carry its work even
further, to introduce the ban on cloning through an international
legal instrument and, specifically, an international Convention. At
first, only a prohibition of reproductive cloning was considered. In
August 2001, Germany and France asked Mr Kofi Annan, Secretary
General of the United Nations, for a project that would forbid it
everywhere in the world. By the end of 2001, reproductive cloning
was prohibited in 24 countries, including Germany, France, the
United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, India, Japan, Brazil and South Africa.
Recent developments in the international situation and the
initiative of certain countries in favour not only of the
prohibition of reproductive cloning (the proposal of a partial ban),
but of a simultaneous global prohibition of cloning both for
purposes of reproduction and for research and therapy (the proposal
of a total ban), represent a significant change in the work underway
for an International Convention against cloning.
Particularly important in this regard are: the United States law of
27 February 2003 that totally forbids cloning (currently under
examination by the Senate); the resolution of the German Bundestag
of 7 February 2003, to promote international initiatives to prohibit
it completely (not only partially, as has so far been the case); the
French project of 30 January 2003, for a reform of the law on
biomedicine that will ban it totally (which is still being debated);
and the request for its total ban by the European Parliament on 10
April 2003 (currently being examined by the European Commission).
All these recent initiatives aim to ban cloning completely, and not
merely reproductive cloning. Today this international atmosphere,
different from that of a few years ago, is now reinforced by an
initiative that the United States and Spain have sponsored and
presented to the United Nations. Its goal is an international
Convention that will put a total ban on all cloning.
There are precedents of international instruments that have targeted
this prohibition. In the context of the Council of Europe, after the
Paris Accord (12 January 1997), work began on an anti-cloning
Convention. The European Parliament accepted and adopted the project
of the Council of Europe for an "explicit prohibition of every form
of human cloning", and in the meantime, it has asked "researchers
and doctors participating in research on the human genome under no
circumstances to intervene in the cloning of human beings before a
legally binding prohibition of it comes into force". The European
Convention on Human Rights and Biotechnology, also known as the
"Oviedo Convention", and the additional Protocol on the prohibition
of cloning human beings was the result of this work and specifically
forbade "the production of human embryos for research purposes"
(Art. 18.1). Thus, the ratification of the Oviedo Convention, by
certain European States had already begun in 1999.
The European Parliament issued another declaration on 22 November
2001 in favour of the prohibition of every type of human cloning,
this time throughout the world. This was an amendment to a report on
biotechnology in which the Parliament "insistently repeats that
there must be a universal and specific prohibition, at the level of
the United Nations, on the cloning of human beings at any stage in
their growth or development". The Parliament then invited the
European Commission and the member States of the European Parliament
to continue in this direction. In both April 2002 and February 2003,
the votes of legislators showed that they were in favour of a ban on
cloning for the purpose of extracting stem cells from the embryo.
The Bundestag (February 2003) asked the German Government to change
Germany's position at the United Nations by opting for the total ban
of cloning because it represents an assault on human dignity, given
that there is no substantial moral distinction between reproductive
and therapeutic cloning, which both result in the creation of living
4. Why is human cloning, reproductive or therapeutic, ethically
Concern about the possibility of human cloning is well justified and
there are very serious reasons for it. The various attempts to
introduce an overall, simultaneous ban on cloning throughout the
world is a response to this concern. Despite the great interest
shown in the realization of these projects and the expectations they
have given rise to in large circles (scientists, groups of sick
people hoping for new therapeutic resources, professional
associations, etc.), some of which, it must be said, are more
realistic than others, it would be irresponsible not to weigh
carefully the objections to cloning that are backed by technical and
ethical considerations and profound anthropological reasoning.
1. Reproductive cloning
With regard to attempts to clone a human being for reproductive
purposes, the foreseeable scientific obstacles are very serious, to
the point that many experts have expressed strong doubts as to the
actual viability of a truly scientific project in this regard.
Despite the recent, more or less sensational announcements by the
mass media, for the time being there is no real, scientifically
valid proof that shows beyond all doubt that these attempts would be
successful. Moreover, even were such attempts likely to be
successful in the future, consideration must be given to the very
grave risk of illnesses, genetic defects or monstrosities for which
those who produced them would be responsible.
For example, the nuclear transfer technique has so far not led to
any results other than a vast quantity of embryos unable to develop
correctly. On rare occasions when birth is obtained, the animals are
frequently afflicted with diseases and sometimes with various
monstrous malformations, so that their premature death is quite
common. This seems to be due to defects in the genetic
"reprogramming" of the nuclear transfer. It is clear that in these
conditions cloning for "reproductive" purposes must not be applied
to the human species because of the serious risk it would involve
and the very high mortality rate it entails.
If the immorality of reproductive cloning is predetermined by the
actual technical circumstances, the ethical obstacles to human
reproductive cloning are in themselves insurmountable and glaringly
at variance with the common moral sense of humanity.
Already in the 1980s the philosopher Hans Jonas addressed the
ethical problems that the eventual cloning of a human person would
pose. Cloning would mean the loss of what Jonas calls the "right of
ignorance", that is, the subjective right to know that one person is
not the replica of another, and a person's right not to know
anything about his future development (such as, for example, future
illnesses, psychological development, the foreseeable moment of
natural death, etc.). As Jonas says, this "ignorance" is in a
certain sense a "condition for the possibility" of human freedom,
and to encroach upon it would mean placing an enormous burden on the
individual's autonomy. The human clone would be brutally conditioned
by knowing that he was a copy of another person, because uncertainty
is an essential ingredient of the human effort to choose freely.
Without the responsibility of uncertainty, according to Jonas, the
clone would foresee his every move, his own illnesses, and correct
his future psychological attitudes in an unremitting, hopeless
effort to separate himself from his "original", who would always be
an omnipresent shadow and model, and the track he would be forced to
follow or to avoid. "Being a copy" would become part and parcel of
his own identity, his own being and his own conscience. Thus, a
wound would be inflicted on the human right to live one's life as an
original and unique discovery, basically, a discovery of themselves.
As a result, the clone's way through life would become the
burdensome implementation of an inhuman and alienating "programme of
control". Thus, Jonas considers the cloning "method" to be "the most
tyrannical and at the same time enslaving form of genetic
manipulation; its goal is not the arbitrary modification of all that
is inherited but, precisely, its arbitrary establishment, which is
at odds with the strategy that prevails in nature".
The risk of a eugenic use of cloning (both reproductive and
therapeutic), in order to "improve" the race or to select personal
characteristics deemed "superior" to others, is not (despite the
assertions of its supporters) a very distant possibility.
In the Resolution on cloning of 12 March 1997, the European
Parliament declared that it was "firmly convinced that no society
can justify or tolerate the cloning of human beings under any
circumstances: neither for experimental purposes, nor in the
treatment of infertility, nor in diagnosis prior to tissue
implantation or transplantation, nor for any other purpose, since it
constitutes a grave violation of the fundamental human rights and
denies the principle of the equality of human beings by permitting a
eugenic and racist selection of the human species; it is an offence
to the dignity of the person, and furthermore requires
experimentation on human beings (B). In a second Resolution on
cloning of 15 January 1998, the European Parliament, in requesting
the prohibition of human cloning by way of experimentation for
diagnosis "or for any other purpose", even describes cloning as
"anti-ethical" and "morally repugnant" (B).
2. Therapeutic cloning
Advocates of the therapeutic cloning of human beings often describe
it as a breakthrough that would benefit genetic therapy as a remedy
for diseases thus far beyond the scope of medicine. However, these
possible (and disputable) positive consequences do not basically
change the moral character of cloning in itself. There is a close
objective continuity between reproductive and therapeutic cloning.
In both, a human embryo is "produced", but therapeutic cloning
envisions its subsequent destruction in the extraction of embryonic
stem cells or biological material for use in treatment.
Ample uncertainty continues to surround the technical aspects of
therapeutic cloning. On the one hand, people are saying that cloning
would be a source of embryonic stem cells (which, since they are not
differentiated, and because of their greater "plasticity", would be
interesting from the biological point of view). However, people do
not always take sufficiently into account the precarious condition
of the cloned embryo and the high probability of producing various
neoplasias (cancers and tumours) in the candidate for treatment into
whom the cells would be introduced. This is why many researchers
suggest that research into adult stem cells might lead to greater
success, without the ethical limitations that the use of embryonic
stem cells involves.
On the other hand, it is also necessary to consider the considerable
practical difficulties that the immunological rejection of these
embryonic stem cells would create. These problems further weaken the
argument of those who claim that human cloning can justifiably be
used in such research. To get round the immunological rejection of
embryonic stem cells by cloning of an embryo implies exploiting the
human embryo to the full. As Elisabeth Monfort underlines, "The use
of embryonic stem cells necessarily involves the technique of
therapeutic cloning to prevent tissue rejection. To refuse cloning
and accept the use of embryonic stem cells... is an irresponsible
and even hypocritical stance that is certainly intended to reassure
those who still have doubts".
Therapeutic cloning to obtain stem cells not only implies the
production of an embryo, but also its manipulation and subsequent
destruction. It is unacceptable to consider a human being, at any
stage of his development, as a store of spare "material" or a source
of tissue and organs, like "spare parts". The moral complexity of
cloning can be better understood if we take into account that what
it would produce, manipulate and destroy are not "things", but human
beings like us. One way of facing this issue would be to put
ourselves in the shoes not of the scientists who produce the clones,
but of the embryo (which is what we too once were). Surely we would
not want to enter the world in a laboratory rather than as the
offspring of our parents' union. Nor would it be acceptable to be
the sole survivor among tens or hundreds of our twin brothers or
sisters, discarded as "defective". It would be even less agreeable
to be engineered in order to produce "parts" that another needs at a
later date (kidneys, for example); or to die after this short and
painful birth that was "produced" precisely for this end.
Of course, the use of stem cells for cell therapy could pave the way
to a whole series of beneficial types of research that today offer
very interesting prospects; but the use of embryonic stem cells for
this goal (and, consequently, of therapeutic cloning to obtain
them), has proven to be a scientific process that is unreliable,
difficult and ethically unacceptable. On the other hand, when
research on adult stem cells, satisfactory both from the ethical and
technical viewpoints, is carried out in a dignified and responsible
way and subjected to ethical criteria, it represents the way forward
and a future of hope that raises no special ethical objections.
3. Technical, ethical and anthropological objections to human
Certain arguments that make it possible to go more deeply into the
rational reasons of the immorality of cloning, show the ethical
continuity between "reproductive" and "therapeutic" cloning. A deep
complementarity links these arguments since they develop various
rational, ethical aspects that derive from the ontological dignity
of the human embryo, as they are interconnected with one another and
with the anthropological and ethical status of the embryo, which
must be the starting point in the whole complex issue.
a. Irrefutable probability of the human character of the embryos
Procuring human embryos for cloning, either for reproduction or for
therapy and research, would imply destroying a large number of them.
For example, in order to obtain Dolly the sheep, hundreds of embryos
were "wasted". And this is not all: the high risk of transmitting
diseases or malformations that this technique would involve are an
additional reason. This is especially true with regard to
"therapeutic" cloning. Hence, it is obvious that the harvesting of
embryonic stem cells necessarily passes through the production (and
subsequent destruction) of an embryo, which many researchers
themselves no longer insist on defining as an "accumulation of
cells", a term coined to avoid the anthropological and consequently
ethical question posed by the embryo. In fact, researchers
acknowledge that these techniques begin by producing what they call
"early embryo", that is, an embryo in its initial state. But then a
question arises: what is this embryo? What would its ethical and
juridical status be? The question points to another that is inherent
in it: what is the status of every human embryo?
The assertion that the human being must be respected and treated as
a person from the very moment of conception is vital to a correct
explanation of the problem of the identity and status of the human
embryo. "The formulation in these terms of the fundamental ethical
duty to the unborn child has become vitally necessary, because of
the problems raised by biotechnological development".
The expression "pre-embryo" was used precisely to avoid the
fundamental anthropological and ethical question concerning the
status of the embryo. "The problem", people say, "is that the embryo
in its initial phase has no individuality or identity since, being
formed of totipotent cells, one or more human individuals cannot yet
be identified in it". But let us use our reason. The embryo (we are
referring to the so-called "pre-embryo"), is a being. By this word
"being" we mean an existing, living reality susceptible of its own
biological development, differentiated and autonomous (it possesses
in itself the capacity for growth) as regards the adequate and
necessary means for its subsistence and for "nourishing" its own
autonomous development. In addition, and in particular, it develops
for its own sake, without having any "role" external to its own
life. A cell is not an individual being because it functions as a
part of a whole; its development is part of the development of the
whole of which it forms a part. On the other hand, the embryo is not
part of any whole, it is not fundamental to the (biological) life of
the mother; if we "reproduce" embryos in the laboratory, as such
they have no "use" unless we plant them in a female uterus to
continue the biological cycle that leads to their birth or, for this
same purpose, unless they spend the whole of the gestation period in
the laboratory - although it is true that with time, since they have
not been implanted, they will be "rejected", "destroyed" or simply
"killed", terms that in this case are synomous.
In fact, if the question regarding the embryo is anthropologically
and ethically precise, it must also be said that from the ethical
viewpoint, there is a basic question that is very important for
ethics: what isn't it? in other words: can we be certain that the
embryo thus generated is not human? From the moral viewpoint, the
admission alone of the probability (that none of the current studies
has been able to deny) that we have before us a human being, a
product of the cloning technique, has crucial weight. It is obvious
that someone looking at a shadow who is unsure whether it is an
animal or a man and who fires a shot, is guilty of murder. Before
firing, he is morally and strictly bound to make sure that it is not
a person. This ethical principle seems to have been infringed in
these practices in which the harvesting of human embryonic stem
cells must necessarily pass through the creation and destruction of
an embryo in the first phases of its life.
b. The dignity of the human embryo
The result of fertilization is a new totipotent, unicellular
biological individual called a "zygote". It must be recognized that
cloning has exactly the same result as that of fertilization. There
are no grounds for asserting, in spite of genetic abnormalities,
that cloning does not produce a zygote. It is then necessary to
establish a close analogy between fertilization and cloning. It
should also be noted that there is no rational reason to deny to
embryos obtained through cloning the same rights as those to which
embryos obtained through the process of artificial fertilization are
entitled, and therefore, even more justifiably, to which all embryos
begotten through the natural process of human fertilization are
entitled. What, for example, would be the essential difference
between them, given the totipotentiality of their cell makeup that
is not disputed by anyone?
The development of the embryo is the first stage of the human
individual. Father Angelo Serra considers the three main properties
that characterize the human epigenetic process, which, according to
C.H. Waddington, can be described as "the continuous emergence of a
form of preceding stages": in other words: 1) coordination.
"Embryonic development, from the fusion of the gametes or "syngamy',
until the appearance of the embryonic disk at or after 14 days, is a
process that manifests a coordinated sequence and the interaction of
molecular and cellular activity, under the control of the new
genome". This property requires the rigorous unity of the subject
that is developing. It is not a cluster of cells but a real
individual. 2) Continuity. Syngamy begins to a new cycle of life.
"Everything would indicate that an uninterrupted and gradual
differentiation of a very specific human individual takes place,
according to a single, rigorously defined programme that begins at
the zygote stage". This quality of continuity implies and
establishes the unicity or uniqueness of the new human being. 3)
Gradualness. The final form must be reached gradually.
This growth is permanently oriented from the zygote stage to the
final form because of an intrinsic epigenetic law. Every human
embryo keeps its own identity, individuality and unity. The living
embryo that originates in the fusion of the gametes is not a mere
accumulation of available cells, but a real, developing human
individual. Yes, from that instant it is a child! The embryo is a
human individual. The abusive introduction of the term pre-embryo
was a trick to pacify consciences and allow experimentation until
the end of the stage of implantation, that is, in the human species,
about 14 days after fertilization has taken place. Thus, the
convenient conclusion has been that the embryo would not exist for
the first two weeks following fertilization.
c. The embryo has human dignity, even when it consists of only one
The refusal, therefore, to recognize the human condition of the
embryo obtained through cloning (whether for reproductive purposes
or to obtain embryonic stem cells from it) in the first days of its
development is part of the discussion on the human embryo's
anthropological and ethical status. These embryos are denied their
individual character and it is said that they have no "human life".
This is a contradiction. If we are dealing with embryos and not
merely "oocytes that have divided" (and are on their way to
extinction), then they are human individuals, endowed with human
life, and not "clusters" of cells. The researcher I. Wilmut (famous
for obtaining Dolly, the first cloned sheep; today he is a
determined opponent of the reproductive cloning of humans, but
clearly favours cloning for therapeutic purposes), recognizes that
"when an embryo is created, an automatic-pilot takes over its
initial development". If the embryo were the "cluster of cells", as
some say it is, it would not be its own "automatic-pilot", it would
have no autonomy nor a unitary teleology of its own that it clearly
demonstrates it possesses.
From the moment of its conception, in fertilization, the embryo
shows that it is an autonomous entity that immediately begins
developing and grows gradually, continuously and harmoniously; and
the constant teleological integration and cooperation of all its
cells is part of this growth. It is an organism that develops,
without interruption, in accordance with the programme outlined in
its genome. Thus, without any outside intervention it becomes in
succession a zygote, morula, blastocyst, an implanted embryo, a
fetus, a child, an adolescent and an adult. If this happens in
natural fertilization, why would not the same thing happen in
This point presents a contradiction since it refuses to recognize
that the result of cloning is equivalent to the result of
fertilization. This distinction (cloned-embryo; fertilized-embryo)
that refers back to the false distinction between the so-called
"pre-embryo" and the embryo, an erroneous distinction as mentioned
earlier, has become in practice the greatest obstacle to the
acknowledgment that an embryo has human status. If the cloned human
embryo were not human, then "what" would it be? To what animal
species would it belong? Would it possess a human genome but not be
human? It is not necessary to insist here on the contradictions
implied in these denials. A human embryo, thus recognized by reason
as a human individual endowed with an organism of its own, has its
own proper dignity and therefore deserves respect. This "dignity" is
not due to some external addition, but is inherent in its being, in
itself and for itself.
If people refuse to admit that the embryo has human dignity under
the pretext that it possesses no actual consciousness, then the
dignity of people who are asleep or in a coma should also be denied.
If the dignity of the embryo is rejected, then one could also deny
the dignity of the child.
The human being, whatever his financial, physical or intellectual
condition, cannot be used as a means or an object. The subtle
offence to this fundamental principle is aggravated when this human
being is powerless to defend himself against an unjust aggressor. If
a person agrees to treat a human being as a means and not as an end,
he himself must one day agree to be treated in the same way.
Nor should he protest. Even if the therapeutic application of stem
cells obtained through the creation and destruction of human embryos
were to be clearly demonstrated (something that has not been done),
morals, common sense and sound judgment would be opposed to it: one
cannot do evil for a good end. The end does not justify the means.
The history of humanity is rich in teaching on this subject. As the
philosopher J. Santayana said: "Those who do not know history are
condemned to repeat it".
d. Personality of the embryo
The moral evaluation of human cloning, therefore, depends
essentially on its goal or objective and does not primarily stem
from the subjective intention for which these techniques are used.
The very uncertainty as to the human nature of the product of these
techniques suffices to make it a duty not to produce it. However,
over and above the strict moral duty not to produce it, there are
many serious reasons for holding not only that embryos obtained in
this way should be duly respected as befits their human dignity, but
also that they are human persons who are first manipulated and then
e. Inhumanity in the production and consequent destruction of
embryos created by cell nuclear replacement (so-called "therapeutic"
Upholders of the so-called "therapeutic cloning" always insist that
their intention is not to go as far as "reproductive" cloning but to
destroy the human embryo thus created in the very first days of its
development. According to their reasoning (widely reported in the
press, the mass media and political speeches), this approach would
be "ethical", whereas reproductive cloning would not.
Human cloning that could lead to the birth of a human being is to be
judged an immoral method of artificial procreation. In "therapeutic
cloning", this process is interrupted intentionally: a human embryo
is voluntarily created, later to be destroyed in order to extract
embryonic stem cells from it. In an ethical perspective, this
procedure is even worse. To accept it would be on a par with
accepting a radical equality between the human species and others
(P. Singer). Rejection of the possibility to kill one human life for
the purpose of healing other human lives does not originate in a
specifically religious stance but in the force of the arguments and
reasoning of common sense and the power of a coherent anthropology
and a personalistic bioethics.
f. Human cloning is contrary to the dignity of life and procreation
The application of the techniques of cloning to human beings, with
the intention of creating embryos, both to implant them subsequently
in a uterus (reproductive) or to extract their stem cells and then
destroy them (therapeutic cloning or cloning for research), not only
concerns the dignity of human life and its inalienable rights, but
is also contrary to the moral value of the intrinsic union between
life, sexuality and procreation. The orientation of human sexuality
to procreation is not a "biological addition", but corresponds to
human nature and is manifested in the natural inclination for
procreation by men and women. These techniques, instead, separate
the procreative aspects of human sexuality from its unitive aspects
and are thus contrary to the dignity of sexuality and procreation.
Cloning techniques are, in themselves and always, "reproductive".
Recent experiences also show that human cloning, despite the
enormous difficulties, is not impossible in principle. The ethical
question thus concerns not only the dignity of human life and the
exploitation and eventual destruction of the embryo, but also the
specific and precisely sexual way in which human procreation occurs
that has a moral value of its own which these techniques fail to
g. Cloning of human embryos is contrary to the dignity of the family
An important ethical factor that is often overlooked should also be
considered. The human being is a social being. In human beings, the
sexual and procreative dynamic takes place naturally in a context in
which sexuality and procreation are harmoniously integrated in the
reality of conjugal love, which fills with meaning human sexuality
open to life. In marriage, love and responsibility converge in
openness to life and continue in the educational task, through which
parents devote the maximum care to their children.
Human cloning ruptures this whole dynamic. In cloning, life appears
as an element that has nothing whatsoever to do with the family. The
embryo "appears", so to speak, on the margins not only of sexuality
but also of genealogy. Every human being has the right to be born
from the integral love - physical and spiritual - of a father and a
mother, to receive their care, to be accepted by his parents as a
gift and to be raised by them. When we see looming on the horizon
the disturbing possibility of manipulating a conceived human being,
of subjecting the embryo to experimentation only to destroy it once
the cells or the biological knowledge desired have been obtained,
then it is the very concept of filial, maternal and paternal
relationship that is in crisis, and the idea of family is shattered
Recent developments in science show that human cloning, in spite of
immense technical difficulties and the profound ethical and
anthropological objections to it, is more than a hypothesis: it is
becoming a possibility. The various attempts by law and by
international accords to prevent this possibility from becoming
reality, and to obtain recognition of it as a crime against the
human person, are not based on a vague fear of progress and
technology, but on important and judicious ethical motivations and
on a clearly identified anthropological concept of the human person,
sexuality and the family. It is up to public authorities,
parliaments and international bodies to take a firm stand. This
truly is a key problem for the future of humanity and for a
safeguarding of the dignity of scientific research and the efforts
to promote the life, health and well-being of human beings, which
justifies the adoption of appropriate measures by the community of
the peoples who make up the great human family.
1) "The Pontifical Council for the Family has the task of promoting
the pastoral care of the family and of the specific apostolate in
the area of the family, by putting into effect the teachings and
directives of the ecclesiastical Magisterium, so that Christian
families may carry out the educative, evangelizing and apostolic
mission to which they have been called. In particular... b) it
attends to the spread of the doctrine of the Church regarding family
problems so that it can be integrally known and correctly presented
to the Christian people both in catechesis and on a scientific
level;... c) it promotes and coordinates pastoral activity with
regard to the problem of responsible parenthood according to the
teaching of the Church;... e) it encourages, sustains and
coordinates the efforts in defence of human life throughout the
entire span of its existence from the very first moment of
conception; f) it promotes, through the work of specialized
scientific institutes (theological and pastoral), studies aimed at
integrating the theological sciences and the human sciences on
themes related to the family, so that the doctrine of the Church may
be better understood by men of good will" (John Paul II, "Motu
proprio" Familia a Deo Instituta, 9 March 1981, 3, V; Osservatore
Romano English edition [ORE], 1 June 1981, pp. 1, 10).
2) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on
Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of
Procreation Donum Vitae, 22 February 1987, II, B, 4, c.; ORE, 16
March 1987, p. 6.
3) The term "clone", used by the British geneticist and physiologist
J.B.S. Haldane (Biological Possibilities for the Human Species of
the Next Ten-Thousand Years, 1963), originally derived from botany:
"a colony of organisms that in an asexual manner - that is, without
the intervention of sex - proceed from a single progenitor" (Herbert
John Webber, 1903). Its root is the Latin word "colonia, coloniae"
(and the verb "colo, is, colui, coltum") that comes from the Greek
klwn, klwnV ("klon, klonós, which means "a new shoot to plant" and
alludes to the natural asexual reproduction of certain plants, such
as the rose-bush, that can be reproduced by planting a portion of
it. Cf. H.J. Weber, New Horticultural and Agricultural Terms,
Science 28 (1903), pp. 501-503; A.A. Diamandopoulos, P.C. Goudas,
Cloning's not a new idea: the Greeks had a word for it centuries
ago, Nature 6815/408, 21-28 December 2000, p. 905.
4) J. Loeb, in 1894, artificially stimulated parthenogenesis in sea
urchins, but it was the German Nobel Prize-winner H. Spemann who
succeeded in 1914 in transferring nuclei to salamander cells. He was
the first, in 1938, to suggest the nuclear transfer in the cells of
mammals. In 1981, this technique, which had been considerably
improved, was applied successfully to rats and, in 1986, to sheep
and cows. In 1997, I. Wilmut of the Roslin Institute, U.K., was
successful in obtaining the birth of the first cloned sheep in the
world, the famous "Dolly".
5) Pontifical Academy for Life, Riflessioni sulla Clonazione, 11
July 1997; ORE, 9 July, 1997, n. 2, p. 10. Cf. D. Tettamanzi (edited
by M. Doldi), "Cloning", Dizionario di Bioetica, Piemme, Casale
Monferrato, 2002; L. Ciccone, Bioetica. Storia, Principi, Questioni,
Ares, Milan, 2003, pp. 143-176; I. Wilmut et al., Viable offspring
derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells, Nature, 385, 997, pp.
6) Natural parthenogenesis consists in the formation of a new
individual from a female gamete (oocyte) without the participation
of a male gamete (spermatozoon). This natural phenomenon occurs in
females that produce spontaneous embryos without previous
fertilization (in certain species of invertebrates, not in mammals),
or in biological individuals that originated in hybridization (the
cross-breeding of different species). Since there is no
recombination, the progeny are identical replicas of the single
progenitor, that is, natural clones.
7) Embryonic fission consists in the separation from the embryo of a
few cells, in such a way that a complete adult develops from each of
the resulting separated cells, complete with the same genetic
8) The totipotentiality of a cell consists in its ability to
generate all the cells and tissues of a complete organism, including
(if satisfactory circumstances exist) the development of an
individual. In the human, each embryonic cell remains totipotent for
a few days after fertilization. Homozygous germination (the
phenomenon of identical twins) is the result of an incidental
embronic fission of the totipotent cells that make up the embryo in
the first stages of its development.
9) Cellular multipotentiality implies the capacity of a cell to
generate differentiated cells and tissue of parts of the organism,
but not of all or each of them, nor a complete individual. In the
human being, in particular, multipotentiality concerns the capacity
to generate cell lines and differentiated tissue derived from each
one of the embryonic layers, that is, the ectoderm, mesoderm and
A stem cell is a non-differentiated cell that can make an infinite
number of exact copies of itself.
10) Stem cells are able to produce specialized cells of the tissues
of an organism, such as the cardiac muscle, brain or liver tissue,
bone marrow, etc. Scientists today are able to keep stem cells alive
in vitro for an indefinite period, and they are beginning to know
how to produce differentiated cells according to need.
11) House of Representatives, HR 534, February 2003.
12) This is an agency of the United Nations system, created in the
context of UNESCO.
13) Resolution 53/192.
14) Ad Hoc Committee on an International Convention against the
Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings.
15) "It is impossible to control the efficacy of human cloning for
reproductive ends if therapeutic cloning is not also forbidden... a
partial prohibition could give rise to the appearance of clandestine
cloning for reproductive ends and the establishment of an illegal
trade in oocytes... the juridical principle of precaution must
guarantee the protection of the weakest party, in this case, the
human embryo... the experience accumulated in animal cloning has
revealed the unreliability of the techniques used as well as the
considerable risks of malformation and deformities in the embryo....
Opposing human cloning is not equivalent to rejecting scientific
progress or progress in genetic research. Cloning is not the only
strategy for research for the development of regenerative
medicine... a general endorsement of research into adult stem cells
would help to make the most of their potential and demonstrate their
effectiveness". Memorandum Contro la Clonazione Terapuetica. Spanish
Delegation to the United Nations, February 2002.
16) Resolution of the European Parliament of 12 March 1997, 2 and
17) Ian Wilmut, "father" of Dolly the sheep, and Rudolf Jaenisch
testified to this before the United States Senate.
18) On this point, there is an abundant scientific bibliography. For
example, see the works of D. Humpherys, K. Eggan, H. Akutsu, K.
Ochedlinger, W.M. Rideout, D. Biniszkiewicz, R. Yanagimachi, R.
Jaenisch, Epigenic Instability in ES Cells and Cloned Mice, Science,
293 (5527), 6 July 2000, pp. 95-97; D. Bourchis, D. Le Bourhis, D.
Patin, A. Niveleau, P. Comizzoli, J.-P. Renard, E. Viegas-Péquignot,
Delayed and incomplete reprogramming of chromosome methylation
patterns in bovine cloned embryos, Current Biology, 2 October 2001,
Vol. 11, n. 19; Y-K. Kang, D-B Koo, J-S. Park, Y-H. Choi, A-S.
Chung, K-K. Lewe, Y-M. Han, Aberrant methylation of donor genome in
cloned bovine embryos, Nature Genetics, June 2001, Vol. 28, n. 2,
19) This observation on "reproductive" cloning is also valid as an
objection to "therapeutic" cloning. Its application in the clinical
field of stem cells harvested from cloned embryos would, to say the
least, be dubious in these circumstances. The cells of these embryos
show serious genetic defects; therefore, the proposal of
transferring abnormal embryonic stem cells to a human person does
not seem rational.
20) Alvin Toeffler's book, Future Shock (1970), sketches a fantastic
futuristic vision of man who makes copies of himself ("man will be
able to make biological carbon copies of himself"), and reflects in
a literary way on the prospects to which these techniques give rise
as well as on anxiety about their consequences. Cf. Lee M. Silver,
What are clones? They're not what you think they are, Nature, 5 July
2001, Vol. 412, n. 6842, p. 21.
21) Hans Jonas, Das Prinzip Verantwortung (The Main Responsibility),
ed. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 1984.
22) Cf. Hans Jonas, Cloniamo un uomo: dall'eugenetica all'ingegneria
genetica, in Technica, Medicina ed Etica, ed. Einaudi, Turin, 1997,
23) Natalía López Moratalla, Las células adultas llevan clara
ventaja a las embrionarias, en Palabra, December 2002.
24) Elisabeth Montfort, La bioéthique, entre confusion et
responsabilité, in AAVV (under the direction of Elisabeth Montfort,
Bioéthique. Entre confusion et responsabilité. Actes du Colloque de
Paris. Assemblée nationale, 1 Octobre 2001. Three-monthly review,
Liberté politique, ed. François-Xavier de Guibert, Paris, 2003, pp.
25) Pontifical Academy for Life, Dichiarazione sulla produzione e
sull'uso scientifico e terapeutico delle cellule staminale, 25
26) D. Tettamanzi, Nuova bioetica cristiana, Piemme, Casale
Monferrato, 2000, pp. 235-268; L. Ciccone, Bioetica. Storia,
Principi, Questioni, Ares, Milan, 2003, pp. 61-80; R.C. Barra,
Status giuridico dell'embrione umano, in Lexicon. Famiglia, vita e
questioni etiche, EDB, Bologna, 2003; E. Sgreccia, Manuale di
Bioetica (Vol. I), Vita e pensiero, Milan, 1998, pp. 361-422; C.
Caffarra, Il problema morale dell'aborto, in AAVV (edited by A.Fiori-E.
Sgreccia) L'aborto, Vita e pensiero, Milan, 1975, pp. 313-320.
27) I. Carrasco de Paula, Il rispetto dovuto all'embrione umano:
prospettiva storico-dottrinale, in Pontifical Academy for Life,
Identità e statuto dell'embrione umano, Libr. ed. Vaticana, 1988, p.
28) The expression "pre-embryo" is deceptive and was contrived to
support abortion. Cf. A. Serra, Lo stato biologico dell'embrione
umano. Quando comincia l'"essere umano?, in Pontifical Academy for
Life, Commento interdisciplinare all' Evangelium Vitae, Libr. ed.
29) R.C. Barra, Status giuridico dell'embrione umano, in Lexicon.
Famiglia, vita e questioni etiche, EDB, Bologna, 2003.
30) "Syngamy" means that part of fertilization that consists in the
process initiated by the penetration of the sperm into the oocyte,
for the purpose of the uniting the chromosomal content of both the
pronuclei formed (amfimixis).
31) Cf. Angelo Serra, L'uomo-embrione. Il grande misconosciuto, ed.
Cantagalli, Siena, 2003, pp. 41-52. Cf. also the items "Dignity of
the human embryo" and "Embryonic selection and reduction" in
Lexicon. Termini ambigui e discussi su famigia, vita e questioni
etiche, (edited by) the Pontifical Council for the Family, EDB,
32) The technical expressions: zygote, morula and blastocyst
correspond to descriptions of the embryo on the basis of the phase
in its development, according to histological and physiological
33) The deceptive idea of the "pre-embryo" was coined, as is well
known, by the Warnock Committee, and today is generally accepted and
deeply rooted in many milieu: A. Serra, Pari dignità all'embrione
umano in Pontifical Council for the Family, I figli: famiglia e
società nel nuovo Millennio. Atti del Congresso Internazionale
Teologico-Pastorale. Vatican City, 11-13 October 2000, Libr. ed.
Vaticana, 2001, pp. 313-320; R. Colombo, La famiglia e gli studi sul
genoma umano, op. cit., pp. 321-325; A. Serra, R. Colombo, Identità
e statuto del'embrione umano: il contributo della biologia, in
Pontifical Academy for Life, Identità e statuto dell'embrione umano,
Libr. ed. Vaticana, 1988, p. 157; D. Tettamanzi, Nuova bioethica
cristiana, Piemme, Casale Monferrato, 2000, pp. 235-268; L. Ciccone,
Bioetica. Storia, Principi, Questioni, Ares, Milan, 2003, pp. 61-80;
R. C. Barra, Status giuridico dell'embrione umano, in Lexicon.
Famiglia, vita e questioni etiche, EDB, Bologna 2003; Ph. Caspar, La
problématique de l'animation de l'embryon. Survoi historique et
enjeux dogmatiques, in Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 1991, n. 123.
34) Rationality, conscience and autonomy would constitute a person,
according to authors such as H.T. Engelhardt or P. Singer. H.T.
Engelhardt, The Foundations of Bioethics, New York, Oxford
University Press, 1986; Manuale di bioetica, Mondadori, Milan, 1991;
Practical Ethics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993; Cf.
L. Palazzani, Il concetto di persona tra bioetica e diritto, Turin,
35) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae, I,