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Cells and Souls: Is OAR an Acceptable Cloning Technique for Pro-Lifers? | Vivian W. Dudro | August 23, 2005

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I am not a scientist and I am not a theologian, but it sure is making me uneasy that some self-described pro-life theologians have endorsed animal testing of the cloning technique called Oocyte Assisted Reprogamming (OAR).

The thirty-five scholars have based their approval of OAR on the assumption that it might be able to produce human embryonic-like stem cells without first creating and destroying human embryos. While respecting them for opposing the overt creation and destruction of human embryos, I question whether the technique in which they are placing their hope can deliver upon its promise.

To summarize briefly: In a recent Wall Street Journal guest editorial and in a subsequent explanation published on the Ethics and Public Policy website, the OAR advocates, including some leading Catholic bioethicists and scientists, called for further exploration of OAR, which is a variation on the cloning procedure with a key difference: its inventors claim that it skips over the creation of the human embryo and jumps directly to the creation of human pluripotent stem cells. These are the cells research scientists are so very eager to get their hands on because of their potential to be developed into any tissue or organ of the human body.

How can OAR manufacture human cells without first conceiving a human being? Theoretically, when the ovum of a woman is reprogrammed and then fused with the cell of the person to be cloned, the new entity conceived immediately becomes something less than a whole human being that is nevertheless capable of yielding fully useful human pluripotent cells. The reason the entity is considered less than a full human being is that the equipment deemed necessary for a mission capable embryo, that is an embryo capable of continuing its development, has been sabotaged from the start.

But can we really create human parts without taking them from existing human beings, however broken or retarded we have made them at their origins? Is there any living thing in this created world that begins as only a part of itself? Or do living things begin as themselves in their wholeness, however undeveloped, and only over time develop their various parts? Once a seed is germinated it is already the plant from which the flower and the fruit will come. Becoming a rose is dependent upon already being a rose, not the other way around. And the claim of scientists that they can manufacture human tissue by conceiving non-human or sub-human beings sounds to me like alchemists boasting that they can make gold from aluminum.

Sure, if I suffer a serious burn on my nose from stupidly leaning too close while lighting the gas stove, a doctor can take skin cells from some other part of my body, cultivate them in a laboratory, and graft the newly formed skin onto my damaged face. At this very moment scientists are discovering that the coveted pluripotent cells, which hold so much promise for medical advances, reside throughout my adult body. But the material fact is this: I was already here, before my skin cells or for that matter my pluripotent cells existed. And the human being that I am would have existed from the moment of my conception no matter how retarded my growth or what pieces or parts were damaged or missing.

Human conception—when it happened and how it happened—was until recent times considered a mystery, deserving our reverence and gratitude. A man and a woman embraced and sometime later the woman grew large with and gave birth to a child. As soon as a woman felt a new life moving within her, she and those around her knew that another member of the human race had come into existence.

It wasn’t a non-living blob, because non-living blobs do not move by their own power. It wasn’t a turnip because they and other plants likewise do not move at will. It wasn’t a rabbit, or even a half rabbit, because neither the mother nor the father was a rabbit. This individual kicking and somersaulting in his mother’s womb was nothing other than another living human being.

So far so good—no need for rocket science here. No wonder both ancient pagan doctors like Hippocrates and those chosen to receive God’s revelation like Moses concurred that to intend the killing of an unborn human life was a heinous crime against man and God.

Jumping ahead to modern times, we find another way of looking at pre-born human life and as a result we see many varieties of artificial reproduction, as well as experimentation on human embryos.

We now know more about sperms and eggs and fertilizations and conceptions than ever before. We know without any doubt when a new human being is conceived—the moment the reproductive cells of the mother and father are joined. We have figured out how to conceive human beings without the sexual act, by extracting eggs and sperms from their parents and marrying them in a laboratory. (Don’t even ask how these cells are obtained, bought, and sold or you will find yourself in another moral morass.) Furthermore, we can clone an already living creature, in other words conceive its twin, by fusing its non-reproductive cells with "donor" ovum denuded of their own genetic material.

Yet the more we know about these details and the more power we have to manipulate them, the less capable we seem to be of wondering at the mystery of life and the fact that it is created and given by something other than ourselves. We have become blind to the truth that men don’t create anything, we only move around already created stuff in order to make life on earth more comfortable and pleasant for ourselves. We have become callous to the natural moral law that limited what we could take apart and reassemble for our own purposes. That law prohibits the treatment of other human beings as mere inanimate things, or even as mere animals. Why? Because human beings are equals to each other in the order of creation, no matter their relative stage of development, age, strength, or intelligence. To elevate myself as the absolute master or "maker" of another human being robs him of his dignity and makes me into a god.

Going back to OAR what do we find? A dubious claim that we can create the parts of living human beings through a process of human conception that somehow does not result in a new living human being. Because its growth and development have been manipulated in such a way that it will never develop the characteristics of an embryo, as defined by the scientists, it is argued that OAR does not create an embryo. The entity conceived by OAR, therefore, is just a clump of very handy cells.

Yet we all begin our lives with just such a deceiving appearance. I am no more or less a human being now than when I first began at my conception as a single cell, or when I first became a zygote, or when as an embryo or a fetus or whatever anyone chose to call me I first stirred in my mother’s womb. Even if I had spontaneously aborted due to genetic or other defects that prevented my continued growth and development, I still would have been, however briefly, fully human and fully alive.

That is the reason I find the OAR theory unconvincing and fear its Catholic advocates, however well-intentioned, are inadvertently accepting the dehumanizing, materialist mindset that allows the manufacture of and experimentation on human beings to continue.

Related External Links:

The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) page for OAR
Critiques of OAR in Communio
Critique of OAR by Women for Faith and Family
Dr. Patrick Lee, professor of philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville, on OAR:

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links:

Does Pro-Life Cloning Exist? The Debate Rages On | Valerie Schmalz | June 16, 2005
Cloning and Stem Cell Bills Set To Be Up For Senate Debate | Valerie Schmalz | July 16, 2005
Cloning and Stem Cells: Definitions of Key Terms | Valerie Schmalz | July 16, 2005
U.N. Calls for Ban on All Human Cloning | March 2005
Cloning Conflict | Valerie Schmalz | January 6, 2005
How Cloning Works | Valerie Schmalz | January 6, 2005
Cloning Kills...But Don't Tell Anyone | Valerie Schmalz | January 6, 2005

Vivian Dudro
is a book editor for Ignatius Press and a free-lance journalist. A mother of four children, her articles have appeared in publications such as National Catholic Register, Catholic World Report and Catholic San Francisco.

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