posted on 23 November 2001
Diocese of Westminster
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, says the Government's proposed Bill squanders a vital opportunity
I am convinced that the systematic manipulation of life through cloning, namely creating new lives for scientific research, is a dereliction of our ethical responsibilities. There has rarely been a stronger case for serious political attention to be given to a scientific issue.
Last week's High Court judgement revealed a disturbing chasm in our legislation, by rejecting the Government's intention to allow cloning only for experimental reasons. The Government has now introduced an emergency Bill in response to this judgement. There is indeed a need to act quickly, but the legislation must be well focused.
When the Government enacted regulations in January to permit research on cloned embryos and other embryos, strong opposition was voiced by the leaders of many faiths to such a decision being made with little parliamentary debate and without introducing new primary legislation. Last week's ruling has offered our society the welcome opportunity to think again about what the law should do: allow some human cloning, or ban it altogether.
This rushed legislation squanders that opportunity. The Government's proposed Bill does nothing to stop the creation of a human clone: it merely prohibits the transfer of the cloned human embryo to the body of a woman. The clone may be treated in any conceivable way, with no time limit on experimentation, as the High Court judgement makes clear. Experimental cloning is left wholly unregulated. The Bill merely prevents an attempt, in this country, to give the clone a chance of being born. It is often suggested that 'therapeutic' cloning is simply the production of stem cells for research - thus glossing over the creation of the clone embryo from whom the cells are taken.
The Government, meanwhile, has wished to argue in favour of cell nuclear replacement for such a purpose, while opposing 'human cloning', suggesting that his would be banned. This Court judgement makes clear that the technique of cell nuclear replacement - whereby a nucleus from an adult cell is inserted into an egg from which the nucleus has been removed - is itself the cloning of a new human organism, provided the newly created cloned embryo is not permitted to survive.
Cloning results in the creation of a human life - an embryo that, if implanted in the womb, would grow up to be a baby. It is a way of creating new human lives, totally and radically divorced from the human act of love. A clone will have no father, as no sperm is used, and the 'mother' will be reduced to the provider of an almost empty ovum.
How many women will come under pressure to allow their eggs to be used to make a clone, with the promise that this will help to find a cure for a sick family member?
To sanction the creation of new human lives with no genetic parents is an innovation with massive ethical and long-term social implications. The late Cardinal Winning was surely right to regard human cloning as crossing 'a moral Rubicon'.
The advocates of cloning point to the benefits of research on embryonic stem cells. They argue that, even if human embryos are created by this process and then destroyed by harvesting the stem cells they contain, the prospective medical gains are so great that this is a price worth paying - the end justifies the means.
There are two responses to this approach: it is unnecessary, and it is wrong. It is unnecessary because human embryos are not the only source of stem cells for research. Science in this area is advancing with astonishing speed, and treatments using adult stem cells are already being carried out successfully on patients. In contrast, there are no existing treatments using early embryonic stem cells.
Embryonic stem cell research has been much hyped, not least for commercial reasons. However, the fact that there are significant commercial interests involved through investments made in embryo research in this country should not dictate our laws in this area.
Experimental cloning is wrong because the end does not, in fact, justify the means. The end - medical treatment - is good, but the means involve the creation and destruction of new human lives. This is intrinsically immoral. An embryo is not an accidental collection of cells. It is an organism with its own internal structure that is in a process of constant development. The embryo and the human adult are the same organism at different stages of growth and maturity. The embryo may not evoke the same emotional reaction as the picture of a developed foetus in the womb. But from a moral point of view does size or appearance matter? Are not all of us 'collections of cells'?
From the moment a human embryo is formed there is a new human life that deserves the protection of the law. I believe that we have a responsibility to speak in defence of human life at all its stages and to ask our political leaders to bring forward legislation accordingly.
This is confirmed by the widespread concern about the dangers of human cloning, not only in this country, but also in other European countries and America. Indeed, the US House of Representatives has legislated against cloning for any purpose, and the European Parliament has voted repeatedly against human cloning and the creation of embryos for research.
When it considers the emergency legislation this week, Parliament needs to avoid all ambiguities and recognise that, far from banning cloning, the Government in fact proposes to allow cloning, provided the clone is destroyed. 'Therapeutic' and 'reproductive' cloning are the same procedure: the only difference lies in how we plan to treat the clone.
It is for this reason that the green light given to 'therapeutic' cloning was welcomed by Dr Severino Antinori, since it will help him with his plans to create a cloned embryo, and bring it to term. If the Government is serious about wishing to ban human cloning - whether for research or for birth - then it must ban it altogether.