Bishops step up campaign against cloning

Sydney Bishop Anthony Fisher will appear before a Senate hearing on cloning and stem cell research today in a new bid by Australia's Catholic bishops to ensure acceptable ethical limitations on scientific research in these fields.

The Senate hearing is a follow up to the Lockhart Committee which was established in June 2005 as part of the review process for legislations passed in 2002 banning human cloning.

Bishop Fisher will tell the Senate hearing that while there are numerous recommendations in the Lockhart Committee's report that are reasonable, the main ones - such as the definition of the human embryo and the creation of human embryos for stem cell research - are unacceptable to the Church.

According to the bishops' submission to the Senate inquiry released publicly yesterday, the bishops say that Catholics "embrace genetic research in general and stem cell research in particular.

"Many areas of such research have the potential to provide great benefit for humanity. Many areas of stem cell research are already showing much promise for major scientific advances."

But they stressed such research must be ethical.

"In particular, research must respect the dignity of each unique human being. Such respect is important at all stages of life, but especially at the beginning and the end of life when human beings are at their most vulnerable."

The bishops' statement rejects cloning of a human in any way as "abhorrent".

"To clone a human is a failure of respect for those human beings and a denial of the universal dignity of all human beings. To create human beings by this method in order to destroy them only multiplies the ethical problems with such a process," the bishops say.

The bishops also reject any ethical distinction between so-called "SNCT" or "therapeutic" cloning and "reproductive" cloning.

"The fact is that all cloning is reproductive - it creates a new living organism of that species and no cloning is therapeutic - it does nothing to help that human being and indeed is usually a prelude to its destruction.

"So-called 'therapeutic' cloning," the bishops add, "is in fact much more unethical than so-called reproductive cloning because the intention from the beginning is a lethal one: to create a human being so that it can be killed for parts," the bishops say.

The bishops statement also backs anti-cloning arguments by Jesuit lawyer Frank Brennan who argues that community attitudes to cloning have not changed since the 2002 review to warrant a revisit of the laws.

The bishops also describe claims about miracle cures for many afflictions if only a particular technique, such as cloning, could be approved as "mere assertions or wishful thinking, without substantial evidence to justify such claims".

However, the bishops recognise that the Church operates in a pluralist environment in Australia and understands that not all of Catholic morality will be adopted by the state as law.

But "the Church will remain, however, a vigorous defender of the life and dignity of every human being", the bishops say.

Submission to the Senate Inquiry into Legislative Responses to the Recommendations of the Lockhart Committee (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference) - PDF

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Bishop Anthony Fisher (Sydney Archdiocese)
Bishop Anthony Fisher (Catholic-Hierarchy)

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20 Oct 2006