Testimony of Richard M. Doerflinger on behalf of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Human Cloning Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Science,Technology and Space
May 2, 2001
I am Richard M. Doerflinger, Associate Director for Policy Development
at the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of
Catholic Bishops. I am grateful for this opportunity to testify on
human cloning, and to express our Conference's support for a federal ban
on the practice as proposed in Senator Brownback's "Human Cloning
Prohibition Act of 2001" (S. 790).
The sanctity and dignity of human life is a cornerstone of Catholic
moral and social teaching. We believe a society can be judged by the
respect it shows for human life, especially in its most vulnerable
stages and conditions.
At first glance, human cloning may not seem to threaten respect for life
because it is presented as a means for creating life, not destroying
it. Yet it shows disrespect for life in the very act of generating it.
Here human life does not arise from an act of love, but is manufactured
in the laboratory to preset specifications determined by the desires of
others. Developing human beings are treated as objects, not as
individuals with their own identity and rights. Because cloning
completely divorces human reproduction from the context of a loving
union between man and woman, such children have no "parents" in the
usual sense. As a group of experts advising the Holy See has written:
In the cloning process the basic relationships of the human person are perverted: filiation, consanguinity, kinship, parenthood. A woman can be the twin sister of her mother, lack a biological father and be the daughter of her grandmother. In vitro fertilization has already led to the confusion of parentage, but cloning will mean the radical rupture of these bonds.(1)
From the dehumanizing nature of this technique flow many disturbing
consequences. Because human clones would be produced by a means that
involves no loving relationship, no personal investment or
responsibility for a new life, but only laboratory technique, they would
be uniquely at risk of being treated as "second-class" human beings.
In the present state of science, attempts to produce a liveborn child by
cloning would require taking a callous attitude toward human life.
Animal trials show that 95 to 99% of cloned embryos die. Of those which
survive, many are stillborn or die shortly after birth. The rest may
face unpredictable but potentially devastating health problems. Those
problems are not detectable before birth, because they do not come from
genetic defects as such – they arise from the disorganized expression of
genes, because cloning plays havoc with the usual process of genetic
reorganization in the embryo.(2)
Scenarios often cited as justifications
for human cloning are actually symptoms
of the disordered view of human life that it reflects and promotes. It
is said that cloning could be used to create "copies" of illustrious
people, or to replace a deceased loved one, or even to provide
genetically matched tissues or organs for the person whose genetic
material was used for the procedure. Each such proposal is indicative
of a utilitarian view of human life, in which a fellow human is treated
as a means to someone else's ends -- instead of as a person with his or
her own inherent dignity. This same attitude lies at the root of human
Let me be perfectly clear. In objective reality a cloned human being
would not be an "object" or a substandard human being. Whatever the
circumstances of his or her origin, he or she would deserve to be
treated as a human person with an individual identity. But the
depersonalized technique of manufacture known as cloning disregards this
dignity and sets the stage for further exploitation. Cloning is not
wrong because cloned human beings would lack human dignity -- it is
wrong because they have
human dignity, and are being brought into the world in a way that fails to respect that dignity.
Ironically, startling evidence of the dehumanizing aspects of cloning is found in some proposals ostensibly aimed at preventing
human cloning. These initiatives would not ban human cloning at all --
but would simply ban any effort to allow cloned human embryos to
survive. In these proposals, researchers are allowed to use cloning for
the unlimited mass production of human embryos for experimentation --
and are then required by law to destroy them, instead of allowing them
to implant in a woman's womb.
In other words: Faced with a 99% death rate from cloning, such proposals
would "solve" the problem by ensuring that the death rate rises to
100%. No live clones, therefore no evidence that anyone performed
cloning. This is reassuring for researchers and biotechnology companies
who may wish the freedom to make countless identical human guinea pigs
for lethal experiments. It is no great comfort to the dead human
clones; nor is it a solution worthy of us as a nation.
Sometimes it is said that such proposals would ban "reproductive
cloning" or "live birth cloning," while allowing "therapeutic cloning"
or "embryo cloning." This may sound superficially reasonable. If
banning all cloning is too difficult a task, perhaps we could ban half
of it – and the half that is "therapeutic" sounds like the half we'd
like to keep.
But this description relies on a fundamental confusion as to what
cloning is. I can sum up the real situation in a few propositions.
1. All human cloning is embryo cloning.
Some accounts of cloning
seem to imagine that cloning for research purposes produces an embryo,
while cloning for reproductive purposes produces a baby or even a fully
grown adult – like new copies of Michael Keaton or Arnold Schwarzenegger
springing full-grown from a laboratory. This is, of course, nonsense.
In the words of Professor Lee Silver of Princeton University, a leading
advocate of human cloning: "Real biological cloning can only take place
at the level of the cell."(3)
Cloning technology can also be used to produce other kinds of cells;
these are not the subject of this hearing, and they are explicitly
excluded from the scope of Senator Brownback's legislation. But when
somatic cell nuclear transfer is used to replace the nucleus of an egg
with the nucleus of a human body cell and the resulting cell is
stimulated, a human embryo results, whatever one's ultimate plans on
what to do next.(4)
2. In an important sense, all human cloning is reproductive cloning.
Once one creates a live human embryo by cloning, one has engaged in
reproduction – albeit a very strange form of asexual reproduction. All
subsequent stages of development -- gestation, birth, infancy, etc. --
are simply those which normally occur in the development of any human
being (though reaching them may be far more precarious for the cloned
human, due to the damage inflicted by the cloning procedure).
To say this is not to make a controversial moral claim about personhood
or legal rights.(5) It is to state a biological fact: Once one produces
an embryo by cloning, a new living being has arrived and the key event
in reproduction has taken place. The complete human genome that once
belonged to one member of the human species now also belongs to another.
Anything that now happens to this being will be "environmental"
influence upon a being already in existence -- transfer to a womb and
live birth, for example, are chiefly simple changes in location.
Moreover, even government study commissions favoring harmful human
embryo experiments concede that with the generation of a new embryo, a
new life has come into the world. They describe the early embryo as "a
developing form of human life" which "warrants serious moral
Thus generating this new human life in the laboratory confronts us with
new moral questions: Not "Should we clone?" but "What do we do with this
living human we have produced by cloning?" If all the available
answers are lethal to the cloned human 95% to 100% of the time, we
should not allow cloning.
3. All human cloning, at present, is experimental cloning.
line between "reproductive" and "experimental" cloning is especially
porous at present, because any attempt to move toward bringing a cloned
child to live birth would first require many thousands of trials using
intended for live birth. Years of destructive
research of this kind may be necessary before anyone could bring a
cloned human through the entire gestational process with any reasonable
expectation of a healthy child. Therefore legislation which seeks to
bar implantation of a cloned embryo for purposes of live birth, while
allowing unlimited experimental cloning, would actually facilitate
efforts to refine the cloning procedure and prepare for the production
of liveborn children. This would be irresponsible in light of the
compelling principled objections to producing liveborn humans by
4. No human cloning is "therapeutic" cloning.
attempt to label cloning for purposes of destructive experiments as
"therapeutic cloning" is a stroke of marketing genius by supporters of
human embryo research. But it does serious damage to the English
language and common sense, for two reasons.
First, the experiments contemplated here are universally called
"nontherapeutic experimentation" in law and medical ethics – that is,
the experiments harm or kill the research subject (in this case the
cloned human embryo) without any prospect of benefitting that subject.
This standard meaning of "nontherapeutic" research is found, for
example, in various state laws forbidding such research on human embryos
as a crime.(7) Experiments performed on one subject solely for
possible benefit to others
are never called "therapeutic research" in any other context, and there is no reason to change that in this context.
Second, the "therapeutic" need for human cloning has always been highly
speculative; it now seems more doubtful than ever in light of recent
advances in adult stem cell research and other noncontroversial
alternatives. In the stem cell research debate, as one recent news
report observes, "There is one thing everyone agrees on: Adult stem
cells are proving to be far more versatile than originally thought."(8)
Adult stem cells have shown they can be "pluripotent" – producing a
wide array of different cells and tissues.(9) They can also be
multiplied in culture to produce an ample supply of tissue for
transplantation.(10) Best of all, using a patient's own cells solves
all problems of tissue rejection, the chief advantage cited until now
for use of cloning.(11)
In its 1997 report on human cloning, the National Bioethics Advisory
Commission reviewed the idea of cloning human embryos to create
"customized stem cell lines" but described this as "a rather expensive
and far-fetched scenario" – and added that a moral assessment is
necessary as well:
Because of ethical and moral concerns raised by the use of embryos for research purposes it would be far more desirable to explore the direct use of human cells of adult origin to produce specialized cells or tissues for transplantation into patients.(12)
Now PPL Therapeutics, the Scottish firm involved in creating "Dolly" the
sheep, says it has indeed found a way to reprogram ordinary adult cells
to become stem cells capable of being directed to form almost any kind
of cell or tissue – without creating or destroying any embryos.(13)
Even in the field of embryonic stem cell research, new developments have
called into question the need for cloning. The problem of tissue
rejection may not be as serious as once thought when cells from early
human development are used, and there are other ways of solving the
problem – for example, by genetically modifying cells to become a closer
match to a patient.(14)
For all these reasons, a recent overview of the field concludes that
human "therapeutic cloning" is "falling from favour," that "many experts
do not now expect therapeutic cloning to have a large clinical impact."
Even James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin, a leading
practitioner and advocate of embryonic stem cell research generally,
calls this approach "astronomically expensive"; in light of the enormous
wastefulness of the cloning process and the damage it does to gene
expression, "many researchers have come to doubt whether therapeutic
cloning will ever be efficient enough to be commercially viable" even if
one could set aside the grave moral issues involved.(15)
We should clearly understand what would be entailed by any effort to
implement a "therapeutic cloning" regimen for stem cell transplants.
This would not be a case in which human embryos are destroyed once to
form a permanent cell line for future use. For each individual patient
countless human embryos – the patient's genetic twin brothers or
sisters – would have to be created in the laboratory and then destroyed
for their stem cells, in the hope of producing genetically matched
tissue for transplantation. Thus the creation and destruction of human
life in the laboratory would become an ongoing aspect not only of
medical research but of everyday medical practice. And what would
become of those who have profound moral objections to cloning, and to
having new lives created and destroyed for our benefit? Would we be
told that we must choose between our life and our conscience?
In short, the "therapeutic" case for cloning is as morally abhorrent as
it is medically questionable. Which brings me to a final proposition on
how to assess proposals for preventing human cloning.
5. Because cloned humans are humans, any proposal to prevent human
cloning must not do to cloned humans anything that would be universally
condemned if done to other humans at the same stage of development.
This proposition can be universally endorsed by people on both sides of
the cloning issue, and on both sides of the abortion issue. To quote
Lee Silver once more: "Cloned children will be full-fledged human
beings, indistinguishable in biological terms from all other members of
the human species."(16) Thus, for example, cloned embryos deserve as
much respect as other human embryos of the same stage – whatever that
level of respect may be.
Silver's point about cloned humans being "indistinguishable" from others
raises a major practical problem for efforts to allow creation of
cloned embryos while forbidding their transfer to a womb. Once the
embryo is created in a fertility clinic's research lab (as such a law
would permit) and is available for transfer, how could the government tell
that this embryo was or was not created by cloning? And if it cannot
do so, how can it enforce a prohibition on transferring cloned embryos
(but not IVF embryos) to a woman's womb?
However, an even more serious moral and legal issue arises at this
point. If the government allows use of cloning to produce human embryos
for research but prohibits transfer to the womb, what will it be requiring
people to do? If transfer has already occurred, the only remedy would
seem to be government-mandated abortion – or at least, jailing or
otherwise punishing women for remaining pregnant and giving birth. We
need not dwell on the abhorrence such a solution would rightly provoke
among people on all sides of the abortion issue. It would be as
"anti-choice" as it is "anti-life."
However, even if the law could act before transfer actually occurs, the
problem is equally intractable. For the law would have to require
that these embryos be killed -- defining for the first time in U.S.
history a class of human embryos that it is a crime not to destroy. It
is impossible to reconcile such a law with the profound "respect" and
"serious moral consideration" that even supporters of human embryo
research say should be accorded to all human embryos.
If the law permitted
creation of cloned embryos for research, while prohibiting
their creation for any other purpose (or prohibiting any other use of
them once created), the government would be approving the one practice
in human embryo research that is widely condemned even by supporters of
abortion rights: specially creating human embryos solely for the purpose
of research that will kill them.
In 1994 the National Institutes of Health did propose funding such
abuses, as part of a larger proposal for funding human embryo research
generally. The moral outcry against this aspect of the proposal,
however, was almost universal. Opinion polls showed massive opposition,
and the NIH panel making the recommendation was inundated with over
50,000 letters of protest. The Washington Post
, while reaffirming its support for legalized abortion, attacked the Panel's recommendation:
The creation of human embryos specifically for research that will destroy them is unconscionable... [I]t is not necessary to be against abortion rights, or to believe human life literally begins at conception, to be deeply alarmed by the notion of scientists' purposely causing conceptions in a context entirely divorced from even the potential of reproduction.(17)
The Chicago Sun-Times
We can debate all day whether an embryo is or isn't a person. But it is unquestionably human life, complete with its own unique set of human genes that inform and drive its own development. The idea of the manufacture of such a magnificent thing as a human life purely for the purpose of conducting research is grotesque, at best. Whether or not it is federally funded.(18)
In the end, President Clinton set aside the recommendation for creation of "research embryos."
Every year since then, Congress has prohibited funding for all harmful
embryo research at the National Institutes of Health, through the Dickey
amendment to the annual Labor/HHS appropriations bills.(19) However, even
members of Congress who have led the opposition to the Dickey amendment
agree with its rejection of special creation of human embryos for
On the only occasion when an amendment was offered on the
House floor to weaken the Dickey amendment, the sponsors emphasized
that it would leave intact the clause rejecting the creation of embryos
for research.(20) Similarly, the recent NIH guidelines for embryonic
stem cell research, as well as Senator Specter's "Stem Cell Research Act
of 2001," explicitly reject the idea of using embryos specially created
for research purposes.(21)
As mentioned above, at least nine states generally prohibit harmful
experiments on human embryos living outside a woman's body. A federal
law that facilitates such experimentation, by approving it as the only accepted use
for human embryo cloning, would mark a radical departure from state
precedents on respect for nascent human life.(22) In short, human
embryos produced by cloning would be created specifically, and solely,
for destructive embryo experiments that are a crime in some states.
Ironically, it seems the cloning procedure is so demeaning and
dehumanizing that people somehow assume that a brief life as an object
of research, followed by destruction, is "good enough" for any human
produced by this technique. The fact that the procedure invites such
morally irresponsible policies is another reason to ban it. For if an
embryo produced by cloning cannot even garner the respect that we all
agree should be accorded to all other human embryos, but is treated as a
dangerous entity that must not be allowed to survive, how will we view
any human clone who is ultimately born alive? As a mere "organ farm"
for others? Or could we compartmentalize our thinking, so that an
embryo created solely for destructive research will be greeted as a new
individual with full human rights if someone does
bring him or
her to full term? In light of some uses proposed even now for born
human clones, it would be foolish to assume that our society will shift
gears so easily.
We must remember that it is morally wrong and irresponsible to make
human clones, not to be a human clone. The innocent victim of cloning
should not receive a government-sanctioned death penalty simply for the
crime of existing. Therefore the approach taken by the Brownback/Weldon
bill, prohibiting the use of cloning to initiate
of a new human organism, is the only morally responsible approach as
well as the clearest and most effective one in practical terms.
In short: Some would reject the most straightforward and effective
legislation against human cloning, solely to protect the use of cloning
for a practice (creating human embryos solely for research) which is of
highly questionable use and has been rejected by policy makers on both
sides of the abortion and stem cell debates. Such advocacy should not
prevent Congress from taking the right course on this issue.
Research in the cloning of animals, plants, and even human genes,
tissues and cells (other than embryos) can be beneficial and presents no
intrinsic moral problem. However, when research turns its attention to
human subjects, we must be sure not to undermine human dignity in the
pursuit of human progress. Human experimentation divorced from moral
considerations might progress more quickly on a technical level -- but
at the loss of our humanity.
A ban on human cloning will help direct the scientific enterprise toward
research that benefits human beings without producing, exploiting and
destroying fellow human beings to gain those benefits. Creating human
life solely to cannibalize and destroy it is the most unconscionable use
of human cloning -- not its highest justification.
- Reflections from the Pontifical Academy for Life, "Human Cloning Is Immoral" (July 9, 1997), in The Pope Speaks, vol. 43, no. 1 (January/February 1998), p. 29. Also see: Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Donum Vitae (Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation)(March 10, 1987), I.6 and II.B.
- See Testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee
on Oversight and Investigations, March 28, 2001, presented by Dr. Mark
E. Westhusin and Dr. Rudolf Jaenishch
- Lee M. Silver, Remaking Eden: How Genetic Engineering and Cloning Will Transform the American Family (Avon Books 1998) at 124.
- See the Fact Sheet, "Does Human Cloning Produce an Embryo?",
Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, National Conference of Catholic
Bishops, March 31, 1998 (www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/cloning/does-human-cloning-produce-an-embryo.cfm).
- Professor Silver, for example, agrees that cloning is
accomplished at the embryonic level, while also claiming that the cloned
embryo (and all other embryos) lack full moral significance until later
in development. To his Princeton colleague Peter Singer and some other
bioethicists, humans do not acquire the rights of persons until some
time after birth. See P. Singer, "Justifying Infanticide," in Writings on an Ethical Life (HarperCollins 2000), 186-193.
- Final Report of the Human Embryo Research Panel
(National Institutes of Health: September 27, 1994) at 2. The National
Bioethics Advisory Commission, which defined the embryo as "the
beginning of any organism in the early stages of development," likewise
said that "the embryo merits respect as a form of human life" (though
not, the Commission thought, the level of respect owed to persons). See
Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research (National Bioethics
Advisory Commission: September 1999) at 85, 50. Also see the sources
cited in the Fact Sheet, "What is an Embryo?", Secretariat for Pro-Life
Activities, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Feb. 26, 1998 (www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/stem-cell-research/what-is-an-embryo.cfm).
- For example, see La. Rev. Stat. tit. 14 §87.2 (a crime to
conduct any experiment or study on a human embryo except to preserve the
health of that embryo) and tit. 40 §1299.35.13 (prohibiting
experimentation on an unborn child unless it is therapeutic to that
child); Mich. Comp. Laws §333.2685 (prohibiting use of a live human
embryo for nontherapeutic research that will harm the embryo); Pa. Cons.
Stat. tit. 18 §3216(a) (nontherapeutic experimentation on an unborn
child at any stage is a felony; defining "nontherapeutic"); S.D.
Codified Laws §§34-14-16 through 34-14-20 (prohibiting nontherapeutic
research that harms or destroys a human embryo; defining "nontherapeutic
- A. Zitner, "Diabetes Study Fuels Stem Cell Funding War," Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2001 (www.latimes.com/news/nation/updates2/lat_stemwar010427.htm).
- Citing eleven other studies, a study funded by the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis
Foundation states: "Pluripotent stem cells have been detected in
multiple tissues in the adult, participating in normal replacement and
repair, while undergoing self-renewal." D. Woodbury et al., "Adult Rat
and Human Bone Marrow Stromal Cells Differentiate Into Neurons," 61 Journal of Neuroscience Research 364-370 (August 15, 2000) at 364.
- See: D. Colter et al., "Rapid expansion of recycling stem cells
in cultures of plastic-adherent cells from human bone marrow," 97 Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA
3213-8 (March 28, 2000)(adult stem cells amplified a billion-fold in
six weeks, retaining their multipotentiality for differentiation); E.
Rosler et al., "Cocultivation of umbilical cord blood cells with
endothelial cells leads to extensive amplification of competent
CD34+CD38- cells," 28 Exp. Hematol. 841-52 (July 2000).
- A recent report on use of adult stem cells to form new muscles,
nerves, liver cells and blood vessels observes: "None of these
approaches use embryonic stem cells, which some oppose on ethical
grounds. Another advantage is that they use tissue taken from the
patient's own body, so there is no risk of rejection or need for drugs
to suppress immune system defenses." See "Approach may renew worn
hearts," Associated Press, November 12, 2000.
- Cloning Human Beings: Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission
(Rockville, MD: June 1997) at 30-31. The Commission outlined three
alternative avenues of stem cell research, two of which seemed not to
involve creating human embryos at all.
- "PPL follows Dolly with cell breakthrough," Financial Times, February 23, 2001.
- P. Aldhous, "Can they rebuild us?", 410 Nature 622-5 (5 April 2001) at 623.
- Id. at 622.
- Silver at 125.
- Editorial, "Embryos: Drawing the Line," The Washington Post, October 2, 1994 at C6.
- Editorial, "Embryo Research IsInhuman," Chicago Sun-Times, October 10, 1994 at 25.
- The current version is Section 510 of the Labor/HHS
appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2001, H.R. 5656 (enacted through
Section 1(a)(1) of H.R. 4577, the FY '01 Consolidated Appropriations
Act, Public Law 106-554). It bans funding any creation of human embryos
(by cloning or other means) for research purposes, and any research in
which human embryos are harmed or destroyed.
- "Let me say that I agree with our colleagues who say that we
should not be involved in the creation of embryos for research. I
completely agree with my colleagues on that score," said Rep. Nancy
Pelosi, arguing in favor of research on "spare" embryos originally
created for fertility treatment. The sponsor of the weakening
amendment, Rep. Nita Lowey, said: "I want to make it very clear: We are
not talking about creating embryos.... President Clinton again has made
it very clear that early-stage embryo research may be permitted but that
the use of Federal funds to create embryos solely for research purposes
would be prohibited. We can all be assured that the research at the
National Institutes of Health will be conducted with the highest level
of integrity. No embryos will be created for research purposes..." 142 Cong. Record
at H7343 (July 11, 1996)(emphasis added). The weakening amendment
failed nonetheless, 167 to 256. Id. at H7364. While this debate
concerned federal funding, supporters of the Lowey amendment said it was
"very hard to understand" why standards for ethical research should be
different for publicly funded and privately funded research. See
remarks of Rep. Fazio at H7341-2.
- The NIH guidelines deny funding for "research utilizing
pluripotent stem cells that were derived from human embryos created for
research purposes," and "research in which human pluripotent stem cells
are derived using somatic cell nuclear transfer, i.e., the transfer of a
human somatic cell nucleus into a human or animal egg." National Institutes of Health Guidelines for Research Using Human Pluripotent Stem Cells, 65 Fed. Reg.
51976-81 (August 25, 2000) at 51981. Senator Specter's bill supports
embryonic stem cell research but insists that "the research involved
shall not result in the creation of human embryos." 107th Congress, S.
723, Sec. 2.
- In Louisiana, for example, a human embryo fertilized in the
laboratory may generally be used only for efforts at a live birth, not
for research. La. Rev. Stat. tit. 9 §122. What would happen if a new
federal law turned this on its head, and banned live birth while
allowing destructive research on cloned embryos – keeping in mind that
cloned embryos may be biologically indistinguishable from IVF embryos
once they are created?