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Doctors Next Door to Pope to Start Cloning  

National Catholic Register

2.25.01-3.03.01  

by DAVID CURTIN

Register Correspondent  

ROME — Dr. Severino Antinori’s in vitro fertilization clinic, a key portal to the brave new world of manufactured humans, is located a mere three blocks from the Vatican.

In March, Antinori will host a gathering of scientists from around the world in the shadow of the Holy See to plan something in flagrant violation of the teachings of the Church and the laws of nations: The first-ever birth of a human clone by 2003.

 Antinori made headlines in recent years for enabling two post-menopausal British women — one 59 years of age and the other 63 — to become pregnant.

His colleague, Dr. Panos Zavos of Lexington, Ky., announced the international human cloning project at a press conference Jan. 25. “The effort will be to assist couples that have no other alternatives to reproduce and want to have their own biological child, not somebody else’s eggs or sperms,” he said.

Using an argument similar to a standard justification for legalizing abortion — that it’s going to happen anyway, and that the only choice is whether to regulate it and make it “safe” — Zavos insisted to the Register that human cloning is inevitable.

“We want to resolve this issue,” Zavos said, “and as I present it to the world I say, OK, the choices are evident here: Do you want us to develop it [cloning technology], or do you want somebody else to develop it, [who] may not even put the thing on the table and discuss it like we do, but rather break the news on the stock exchange one morning and then tell the world, ‘I own every patent on this, you can’t take it away from me, and I’m going to clone whatever I want.’”

Cloning advocates have become especially bold in recent years. In 1998, a scientist at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., created a human clone using a cow egg, but destroyed the clone soon after it began to develop. A team in South Korea claimed to have conducted a similar experiment in 1999.  

Publicity Hounds?  

But at least one prominent reproductive technology expert, Dr. Alan Trounsen of Monash University in Australia, has rejected Antinori’s plan as unethical. Trounsen has accused Antinori, Zavos and their partners of being motivated by the desire for “glory” and “fame.”

Replied Zavos, “We’re not interested in any of those things. Sure, the glory is a wonderful thing, but we are already famous, we are already making money ... We have put our names and reputations on the line [for the cloning project].”

The cloning procedure Antinori’s team plans to follow involves replacing the nucleus of a human egg cell with the nucleus of a cell from an adult, stimulating the hybrid cell to begin dividing, and implanting the resulting embryo in the “mother’s” uterus. The child thus produced would be a near-exact genetic replica of his or her “parent” — that is, the adult who supplied the cellular nucleus.

However, every successful implantation could come at the expense of possibly hundreds of failures, and it is unknown whether a child born of the procedure would be healthy.

The Catholic Church officially rejected human cloning in the 1987 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae (The Gift of Life). It stated that human cloning is “in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union.”

A 1997 document of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Reflections on Human Cloning, added that “human cloning represents a violation of the two fundamental principles on which all human rights are based: the principle of equality among human beings and the principle of non-discrimination.”

The Web site of the New York-based Human Cloning Foundation, which bills itself as “the official site in support of human cloning,” appears untroubled by such moral issues. The foundation supports cloning for parents who want to replace a deceased child, disabled individuals who wish to create clones of themselves who will be able to “lead a better life,” and infertile couples who reject the use of donor eggs or sperm to conceive.  

Kids as Commodities  

Daniel McConchie, director of operations, media  and policy for the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity in Bannockburn, Ill., told the Register he believes “there is no societal reason ... why [cloning] should be in place, because the only reasons for doing so are selfish in nature. It commodifies children, who are [produced] strictly for the purpose of someone else.”

McConchie added that in many cases, cloning is proposed as a way to “short circuit” natural and necessary human processes of psychological and spiritual grieving. He also predicts emotional difficulties for children conceived for such purposes.

An overwhelming majority of Americans share the concerns about cloning. According to a Time/CNN poll published as part of Time’s Feb. 19 cover story on cloning, 90% think cloning of human beings is a bad idea, compared to just 7% who said it was a good idea. And 69% of those polled expressed a specifically religious objection, agreeing that it is “against God’s will to clone humans.”  

The issue of reproductive cloning, which brings a cloned child to birth), is distinct from the issue of so-called “therapeutic cloning,” in which human clones are produced and killed as a source of “spare parts” to treat diseases or disabilities. More specifically, scientists seek to obtain “stem cells,” the cells that from the early days of embryonic development can differentiate into any of the body’s various tissue types.

Both forms of cloning involve the death of embryos, however, and both are inextricably linked in political debate. On Jan. 22, Britain’s House of Lords voted to legalize the production of human clones for scientific and medical purposes, so long as such clones are destroyed after 14 days’ development. French President Jacques Chirac has responded by calling for an international ban on all cloning.

Chirac was quoted Feb. 9 by The Times of London as saying, “I do not favor the authorization of therapeutic cloning. It leads to the creation of embryos for the purposes of research and ... in spite of the ban, makes reproductive cloning practically possible.”

The French president urged scientists to work on obtaining stem cells from adults. Research indicates that stem cells in adults — found in bone marrow, for example — may actually be more promising in curing diseases and correcting disabilities than stem cells from embryos. Pope John Paul II made the same plea to scientists in an address to a congress on medical transplants on Aug. 29.

In 1998, President Clinton’s National Bioethics Advisory Commission recommended a five-year moratorium on reproductive cloning. But biotechnology companies have fought subsequent attempts in Congress to regulate cloning, claiming that any restrictions would jeopardize stem-cell research and animal cloning.  

Bush’s Opposition  

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Feb. 2 that President Bush is opposed to federal funding of embryo stem cell research and fetal tissue research. But, the spokesman added, Bush is unlikely to act on the matter until he receives advice from Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

 

David Curtin

writes from Toronto


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