HUMAN CLONING: NO LONGER A NECESSITY
Bishop Greg O'Kelly SJ
Auxiliary Bishop of Adelaide
It is of considerable interest to note that the members of our South Australian Parliament may well be the first among Western legislators to debate human cloning so close to the breakthroughs in the United States and Japan.
Scientists in those two countries have created stem cells with all the necessary capabilities for application for health improvement directly from skin cells. In other words, there is no need for embryo destruction.
This changes the whole context of the debate, because these discoveries remove the need to create human embryos knowing they are to be destroyed.
The breakthrough has been compared to the discovery by the Wright brothers of how human beings might fly.
It takes us into new worlds. Little wonder that Professor Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the cloned sheep, and Professor Alan Trounson, Australia’s preeminent stem cell scientist, have both declared they have abandoned destructive embryo research deeming it is no longer necessary.
Professor Yamanaka, who headed the research at Kyoto University, came to these discoveries because of a ban on embryo research and his own ethical aversion to embryo destruction.
The wondrous medical possibility of these discoveries to being able to perhaps help cure human ailments, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, gives a sense of purpose and excitement to the research, even though the clinical applications may still be years away.
We are now able to pursue this research in a way that does not compromise human life. People of good conscience have been seriously concerned about research involving the destruction of human embryos. Indeed, Dr James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin was involved in the initial experiments in 1998 that took stem cells from human embryos for the first time, resulting in the destruction of the embryo.
These discoveries precipitated anguished ethical debate, as some sought to justify stem cell research from human embryos on the basis that the embryos they were using from fertility clinics would have been destroyed anyway.
A direct intervention to destroy human life, where there is no issue of self-defence, is quite contrary to a Christian view, as the Church has always taught.
Dr Thomson said of himself at the time, “If this human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough”. In its role to teach the sacredness of life, the Church has always opposed human embryonic stem cell research.
These new discoveries now remove the need to experiment on embryos, because the work on skin cells means that scientists can now treat stem cells in a way that renders them equivalent to the immediate post-embryonic stage.
They also remove the need for people of good conscience to be concerned about tampering with life. Life is the gift of God, and not the plaything of humans.
Those who steadfastly refuse to experiment with human lives, in the form of human embryos, can take great consolation from the rich ability of science to discover other ways which are ethical to enable further research to combat human diseases.
We pray that our South Australian parliamentarians will rise to the occasion and reject the proposed legislation which talks about the cloning of human embryos for medical research.
There simply no longer exists a need to tamper with the sacredness of life in this way. As Dr Thomson, involved in the initial research in 1998 and who has also been involved in these recent developments which now only involve ordinary adult skin cells and not embryos, said, “Isn’t it great to start the field (human cloning) and then to end it”.
May our MP’s do the same.