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Cells and Souls: Is OAR an Acceptable Cloning Technique
for Pro-Lifers? | Vivian W. Dudro | August 23, 2005
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
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 conceptionwhen it happened and how it happenedwas 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 wasnt a non-living blob, because non-living blobs do not move by
their own power. It wasnt a turnip because they and other plants likewise
do not move at will. It wasnt a rabbit, or even a half rabbit, because
neither the mother nor the father was a rabbit. This individual kicking
and somersaulting in his mothers womb was nothing other than another
living human being.
So far so goodno need for rocket science here. No wonder both ancient
pagan doctors like Hippocrates and those chosen to receive Gods 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 conceivedthe
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. (Dont
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 dont 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 mothers
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:
Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) page for OAR
of OAR in Communio
of OAR by Women for Faith and Family
Patrick Lee, professor of philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville,
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Links:
Cloning Exist? The Debate Rages On | Valerie Schmalz | June 16, 2005
and Stem Cell Bills Set To Be Up For Senate Debate | Valerie Schmalz
| July 16, 2005
Stem Cells: Definitions of Key Terms | Valerie Schmalz | July 16,
U.N. Calls for
Ban on All Human Cloning | March 2005
Conflict | Valerie Schmalz | January 6, 2005
Works | Valerie Schmalz | January 6, 2005
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
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