Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley called the successful production of embryonic stem cells by cloning human embryos an “abuse” which ignores the dignity and value of the human person.
“The news that researchers have developed a technique for human cloning is deeply troubling on many levels,” the archbishop of Boston, who chairs U.S. bishops' pro-life activities committee, said May 15.
“Creating new human lives in the laboratory solely to destroy them is an abuse denounced even by many who do not share the Catholic Church's convictions on human life.”
The May issue of the journal “Cell” included a paper from scientists at Oregon Health and Science University announcing they have produced embryonic stem cells by transferring the DNA of human skin cells into human eggs to produce embryos.
The aim of the research is to produce stem cells for therapies to treat diseases which will not be rejected by patients' bodies, because they will be genetically identical.
Such cloning has been done before in mice and monkeys, but this is the first time human embryos have been successfully grown past an eight-cell stage from cloned cells.
The eggs were derived from women who were “financially compensated for the time, effort, discomfort, and inconvenience associated with the donation process.” They were given hormones to induce ovulation and to facilitate the retrieval of their eggs.
After the nucleus was removed from the eggs, genes from other person's skin cells was added into the eggs, and with electricity and caffeine, the researchers were able to induce embryos to grow. The embryos were thus genetic copies – clones – of the persons whose DNA was inserted into the eggs.
The stem cells from these embryos, which were destroyed in the process, were shown to be pluripotent – able to develop into many different kinds of cells.
“Over 120 human embryos were created and destroyed, to produce six embryonic stem cell lines. Creating the embryos involved subjecting healthy women to procedures that put their health and fertility at risk,” Cardinal O'Malley stated.
He pointed out that the stated goal of the research, producing genetically matched stem cells for therapies, “is already being addressed by scientific advances that do not pose these grave moral wrongs.”
Adult stem cells, which do not prose the same ethical concerns as human embryonic stem cells, are already being used to treat and cure diseases, making it unnecessary to do such research on human embryonic stem cells.
These adult stem cells are taken from a person's existing stem cells or from the placenta or umbilical cord at birth. They can also be found throughout the body in all human tissues, including bone marrow, fat, and teeth.
Cardinal O'Malley said that the techniques of the new cloning research “will be taken up by those who want to produce cloned children as 'copies' of other people.”
The study's head, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, has said that the technique will not be used to produce babies because they have not been able to do so with monkey embryos made in the same way.
He also dismissed ethical concerns about the embryos they had made, saying they aren't the equivalent of a human being because they were not fertilized naturally, according to NPR.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said the researchers “created many human embryos, male and female, and allowed them to grow for up to seven days, for the sole purpose of killing them and harvesting their stem cells.”
Cardinal O'Malley concluded his statement by saying that “whether used for one purpose or the other, human cloning treats human beings as products, manufactured to order to suit other people's wishes. It is inconsistent with our moral responsibility to treat each member of the human family as a unique gift of God, as a person with his or her own inherent dignity.”