In an Oct. 6 interview, he said that although researchers are now able to get a “variant” of a cloned human embryo to grow for a longer time period, the development “is of doubtful significance to the human embryonic stem cell project.”
Even more problematic, he added, is that the researchers claim to be creating “defective” embryos, but “defective embryos are still embryos and likely to be human beings.”
Fr. Pacholczyk explained that most naturally-occurring “triploid” (extra chromosome) human embryos do not progress completely through development because of their serious abnormalities.
“However, some will make it to term and can be born alive, generally only surviving for a short time,” he said. “Given these facts, such embryos should not be created for the purposes of harvesting them for stem cells.”
“Using human beings with disabilities or defects for research experiments is just as reprehensible as using healthy human beings,” he underscored.
“Perhaps it is actually more objectionable, since one is taking advantage of the specific weakness and vulnerability of another human in order to satisfy one's own goals.”
But it's not only embryos that are ethically violated in this situation—it's also women, Fr. Pacholczyk noted.
He said that the recent cloning experiment, like all human cloning, require women's eggs, and that raises two concerns: risks to women's health and coercion of women by offering payment for their eggs.
Significant risks to women who donate eggs involve superovulation and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can cause abdominal pain, blood clots, strokes, kidney failure and other life-threatening conditions.
He also documented that women consistently refuse to donate eggs for research experiments if asked to do so voluntarily. Unless they are coerced by large sums of money—thousands of dollars in most cases—they won't typically donate.
“Such monetary coercion is ethically unacceptable,” Fr. Pacholczyk stressed.
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For Fr. Berg, the issue that tops the list of ethical problems with the recent experiment is that it is another example of human sexuality being reduced and demeaned.
“The fundamental ethical problems in this experiment are the same as those underlying human cloning: violation of the values inherent to human sexuality.”
This study attempted “the creation of human life apart from the act of human procreation in the proper context of marital union—the crass conceptual reduction of human life to the level of 'useful' laboratory material,” he explained.
Fr. Pacholczyk took issue with the secular media coverage of the experiment, noting that “when the media covers stories like this they have an obligation to discuss the ethics carefully.”
“If science is permitted to operate without a correct moral compass, it becomes a danger to society, and the media can serve as a major force for curtailing such ethical abuses.”
“We have a duty as a society to be informed about any morally problematic research that scientists may be undertaking,” he said, “especially when our tax money may be involved in funding such studies and when such studies appear to involve direct exploitation of early-stage human beings.”
Markus Grompe, M.D. and professor of Molecular and Medical genetics at Oregon Health and Science University, summed up the problem in an Oct. 6 e-mail to CNA.