Cloning :: Catholic News Agency

Cloning means the production of a living being that isgenetically identical to the one from which it originated. Specifically, humancloning is the artificial production of a genetic replica of another humanbeing. This is achieved without the contribution of two gametes (sperm andovum), and is therefore a form of asexual reproduction. Whereas IVF is a formof reproduction achieved by fertilisation of an ovum (egg) by a sperm outsidethe body, sperm is not used in cloning.

One way in which cloning could take place is by somatic cellnuclear transfer. Here, the nucleus of an unfertilised ovum is removed andreplaced with the nucleus of a somatic cell, or whole diploid body cell, from adeveloped embryo, foetus or adult individual. The ovum is then stimulatedeither chemically or by an electrical pulse to create a human embryo. Giventhat the nucleus contains almost all of a cell’s genetic material, the newembryo will be a delayed genetic twin/clone of the human individual from whomthe cell was taken. In this whole process male sexuality plays no direct role.

Purposes ofcloning

The above-described cloning technique, if successfullyapplied to human individuals, will produce a new human being at its embryonicstage of development. This makes it clear that all human cloning is, in fact,reproductive. The term ‘reproductive cloning’ is therefore a tautology.

Aside from the definition of cloning as a technicalprocedure, it has become commonplace to define cloning in terms of the purposesfor which it is done. These ‘definitions by aim’, need to be carefullyanalysed. Nowadays there is much talk of “reproductive cloning” and“therapeutic cloning”, as though they were different types of cloning. They arenot. “Therapeutic cloning” refers to the production by cloning of a humanembryo for the purpose of using that individual as a source of cells or forexperimentation that may offer therapeutic benefits to other human beings. Theterm is manipulative because it obscures the fact that such interventionscarried out on the early clone human embryo are never therapeutic for thatindividual, who, as a result of having cells extracted from it at an earlystage, will die.

For the sake of clarity, and given the fact that all cloningis reproductive in itself, I will refer to cloning for research/transplantation(or experimental cloning), and cloning for birth (or live-birth cloning). Inthe term cloning for birth is included both cloning done with the intention toimplant and bring to birth, and also any implantation of a clone embryo forthis purpose.

Cloning forbirth

An example of cloning for birth has been given with the caseof Dolly the sheep. In a human case it would mean implanting a clone embryo inthe uterus of a woman whose ovum had been used for cloning, or in the uterus ofa surrogate mother, with the intention that the clone child be carried to term.This new individual human being, barring genetic mutation, should produce abody structure similar to that of its adult cell donor. Cloning for birth has,among other things, been proposed as a way for women suffering from infertilityto obtain clone children. These children, commissioned by and cloned from theinfertile woman, would be produced using another woman’s ovum, then implanted,gestated and born through either the commissioning mother or a surrogate.

Given what we presently know from animal cloning, it isclear that this procedure would cause physical harm to human clones. Many ofthese human beings would have severe genetic or other disabilities, which mightonly become apparent at late stages of pregnancy. Many babies would miscarryand those making it to birth would be likely to suffer premature death or majorhealth problems caused by the means used to produce them. Nearly all scientistsworking in the field would accept this. On top of these problems, clone human beingswho were discovered in the womb to be disabled would be at a much higher riskof being destroyed through deliberate abortion.

Women choosing to gestate clone children would be exposed tograve physical and psychological harm. The high rate of miscarriage would carryhealth risks for the mother, aside from the trauma that would result fromeither miscarriage or neonatal death. Observation of animal clones has shownthat malformed or oversized foetuses could constitute a direct physical threatto the gestational mother. In such cases as these, as well as in cases ofgenetic disability, mothers would be under pressure to abort the child theywere carrying. Abortion, in addition to taking the life of the child, wouldcarry health risks for the mother, both physical and psychological.


The mostobvious threat posed by somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning is to the natureof human procreation and the rearing of children. Cloning, as a form of asexualreproduction, completely displaces the procreative act between a man and awoman. As human beings we are bodily beings. Our living bodies are intrinsic toour unified personal experience. Sexual procreation between a man and a womanis a single act performed by a pair. In this regard the man and woman form, inthe words of philosopher Germain Grisez, a single reproductive (or procreative)principle. It is because as persons we are a dynamic unity of body and soulthat our bodily acts carry an inherent meaning. In light of the couple forminga single reproductive principle, we can see that an organic unity of persons ispresent in the procreative type of act. The meaning of these acts is thereforenot absolutely reducible to the personal projects of the couple. These actshave an inherent connection to the good of the transmission of life. To denythis and to claim that the meaning of sexual union is determined simply by thedesire/will of the couple, is to deny the basic purpose of sexual union betweena man and a woman, and with it the normative meanings of our sexualdifferentiation and complementarity.

By givingthemselves in love to each other and bringing together their gametes (sperm andovum) through a personal sexual act, the couple each give genes to form acompletely new human individual. The new human is genetically unique, relatedto the parents but distinct from them. He has come to be as a result of theprocreative act of his parents and his genetic make-up is unpredictable. He isgenetically linked to the past, yet open to the future. These features carrythe valuable message that the child is the gift and fruit of sexualprocreation, who, as such, must be unconditionally accepted in all hiscontingent and unplanned characteristics. He is not produced or chosen as aparticular child with particular features according to a particular template.He is not custom-made according to the will of his parents. The fact that thechild is a unique and contingent gift, the result of sexual union, invitesacceptance of a different yet equal and related person, not someone the parentsown, or who exists only for their own purposes. The sense that a child is not apossession is an important one for parents to have, lest they be tempted totreat him as if he were. In rearing a child the parents should guide and tosome extent mould the child, but only so that he or she may develop a trulyseparate identity from them.


The clone child will not come to be as the result of asexual act between two persons, but will be produced in a laboratory followinga series of separate acts. These acts will include the extracting of an adultcell, the extracting of a woman’s ovum and removal of its nucleus, thetechnical procedure of fusing the cell with the enucleated ovum in vitro, thetransferral of the early embryo to a woman’s womb. At no point could there besaid to be, in any of these acts, an organic unity of persons. Each act is partof a production process. The child is brought into being according to setcriteria, in this case with a pre-selected genetic pattern. Thus the ‘parents’of the clone have, or aim at having, complete control over what type of childthey are to have in the same way a producer has complete control over aproduct. A child produced by such methods is thus reduced to the status of an objectof the producers’ will. This inequality of relation, whereby producers wilfullyplace themselves in a position of dominion over the product, is radicallyopposed both to the meaning of procreative acts and to the equality and dignityof the child. Such a choice is thereforeintrinsically wrong. Putting oneself in the position of producer greatlyincreases the temptation to value one’s child according to how he/she measuresup to one’s requirements.


The clone child, while being a near genetic replica of theadult cell donor, will be an entirely separate individual. We are notreducible, as human persons, to our genes. Human identical twins occurring innature are closer to each other genetically than a clone and its adult celldonor would be, but remain completely separate persons and undergo separateexperiences. Radical similarities between persons do not make them identical aspersons. One can only talk of similarity against a background of difference.

But the point is not that a clone would not be a distinctperson from his/her adult cell donor. It is rather that he/she will have beendeliberately produced as a replica of another human, and thus will appear to bea replacement copy of someone, and not a unique original. To attempt to replicatesomeone genetically is to attempt something that radically removes geneticdifferences between people. Such differences certainly symbolise the uniquenessand separateness of persons, and protect us against the idea of treating peopleas replaceable. Cloning, which makes mass replication possible, would underminethis important symbolism and thereby handicap the formation of a sense ofindividual identity.

Our genetic uniqueness helps us to have a sense of ouressential uniqueness, and carries with it the message that we have thepossibility of living a life that is fully our own. The clone is denied thisoption insofar as he is, genetically, re-enacting another’s life. The clone’spossibility of self-determination, a value our present society claims torespect, would be undermined given that he could always be compared to the onefrom whom he was formed. In many cases he will have been formed precisely inorder to resemble an original. He will live life in the shadow of his originalwhose actual development could be used as a template in the clone’s rearing.

Even if the clone were never to meet his or her original,the very awareness of such a person’s existence would lead to a sense of livingin the shadow of this unknown person. To argue, as some advocates of cloningdo, that it is best to keep the clone in ignorance of how he came to be, isimplicitly to admit the existence of the very problem that those who opposecloning have pointed out.

Motherhoodand identity

The formation of a sense of identity is deeply influenced byfamilial relations. The clone has no father as such. A single woman could takean adult cell from herself and have it fused with one of her enucleated eggsthereby producing a clone of herself who will be even closer to her geneticallythan a clone who is not made using her ovum. She will then be the belatedgenetic twin-sister, as well as the birth mother, of the clone child.

How, one may ask in a case such as this, is the child todevelop any sort of self-identity? The choices made by the single woman willdeliberately deprive the clone child of both a genetic and a social father,thereby distorting that child’s relations with the male sex.

In another case a clone could come to be with a partialgenetic mother (whose enucleated ovum is fused with an adult donor cell tocreate the clone embryo), a gestational mother (in whose uterus the clone willbe implanted and brought to birth) and a commissioning mother (who ordered theclone). Are these separate people to be regarded as quasi-parents, and whatduties do they have to the clone child they helped to bring about? Which one isduty bound, for the sake of the child, to take on the role of social mother?The genetic mother is not a genetic mother in the ordinary sense, in that shewill not have contributed a haploid set of chromosomes to the baby, but willonly have provided an enucleated ovum, thereby contributing only mitochondrialgenes. The gestational mother will, again, be only a partial mother to a childthat is not fully her own and in whose creation she played no part. Thecommissioning ‘mother’ may become the social mother, but has no prior claimwhich could trump that of the woman who gives birth.

The distancing of the gestational mother from the partialgenetic mother of the child in the case of cloning shows up the radicalfragmentation and limitation of maternity, not to mention the obliteration ofpaternity. What would be the duties of the adult cell donor toward his/heryounger genetic twin? These questions arise, at least in part, because theclone has been denied real parents. If the ‘genetic mother’ providing the ovumis also the gestational mother, we still have a case of partial surrogacy,because the ovum provider’s genetic contribution is absolutely minimal. Shecarries a child who is almost entirely formed by the genetic contribution ofanother. In the case of a donated egg being fused with an adult donor cellfollowing which the clone is implanted into another woman to gestate, a furthergap is introduced, a further confusion as to who the mother is. All of thesefactors serve to remove from the child those traditional ties to parents whichcan act as a protection against his or her maltreatment. This situation,coupled with the inherent meaning of the production process that has been usedto create the clone, leave the clone vulnerable to many types of abuse.


Clone children, like adopted children or those conceivedwith donor gametes, will have a perfectly reasonable desire to find out theirgenetic heritage. In the case of the clone there will be a desire to discoverand meet one’s genetic older twin, assuming that one is being raised outsidethis person’s family. Human experience gives the lie to the belief that geneticinheritance is absolutely irrelevant, and that social parentage is all thatmatters. At present there are men and women who ‘donate’ sperm or ova for thecreation of children they ensure will never have any social connection withthem. This has already become big business, with desirable males/females beingable to charge extra for their gametes to be used. ‘Donor’ offspring are thusrobbed of their rightful inheritance in terms of parental care. Cloning, aswell as degrading the clone, will simply exacerbate this iniquitous situation,further entrenching the idea that one generation can prosper at the expense ofthe next.

This extract is from  A.McCarthy: Cloning (Linacre/CTS Explanations series, 2003) and later publishedby

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