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Cloning Humans vs. Begetting Children

An extreme form of artificial reproduction, cloning differs from artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization insofar as it is achieved without the contribution of two gametic cells; it is, consequently, asexual and agamic in character. Thus even from a biological point of view, cloning is far more radical as a method of artificial reproduction than artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and their permutations and combinations.

Biological background

An extreme form of artificial reproduction, cloning differs from artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization insofar as it is achieved without the contribution of two gametic cells; it is, consequently, asexual and agamic in character. Thus even from a biological point of view, cloning is far more radical as a method of artificial reproduction than artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and their permutations and combinations.

In the latter forms of artificial reproduction a female oocyte is fertilized by a male sperm in order to produce the new individual, whose hereditary traits will be derived from the gametic cells used to achieve fertilization. In cloning the new individual is produced by the fusion either of a nucleus taken from a somatic (body) cell of the individual to be cloned or of the somatic cell itself with an oocyte whose nucleus has been removed, that is, an oocyte deprived of the maternal genome. Moreover, the new individual’s hereditary traits will all be derived from but one source, i.e., the somatic cell (or its nucleus) which is fused with the denucleated oocyte.

Thus even from a purely biological perspective, cloning, as the Pontifical Academy for Life has noted, “represents a radical manipulation of the constitutive relationality and complementarity which is at the origin of human procreation….It tends to make bisexuality a purely functional leftover, given than an ovum must be used without its nucleus in order to make room for the clone-embryo.”[1]

Ethical Considerations

Correctly to understand why cloning is such a perverse mode of generating human life it is necessary to reflect on (1) the truth that human life is a human person’s concrete reality and is hence of incomparable dignity and sanctity, and (2) the bond uniting marriage, the marital act, and the generation of human life. We can then (3) see how grotesquely cloning perverts the beginning of human life.

1. Human Life: the Concrete Reality of a Human Person

The human person is neither the body nor the soul taken separately, but is a unity of these two. Because of this unity, a person’s body and bodily life are not “things” he or she has, but are constitutive of his or her being. John Paul II, explaining the sanctity of human life, points out an important consequence of this personal unity:

All human life–from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages, is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is not just an idea or an abstraction; human life is the concrete reality of a being that lives, that acts, that grows and develops; human life is the concrete reality of a being that is capable of love and of service to humanity.[2]

For any living being, to be is to live.[3] Thus “human life is the concrete reality of” human persons.

2. The Bond Uniting Marriage, the Marital Act, and the Generation of Human Life

Human life is sacred, no matter how generated–whether through nonmarital sexual acts such as fornication, adultery or rape or through new modes of laboratory reproduction, including cloning. But precisely because it is a precious gift of God human life is meant to be the expression and the fruit of love. And this is the reason why human life “should,” as John Paul II affirms, “spring up within the setting of marriage.”[4] Some brief reflections show the truth of this claim.

Fornicators and adulterers have the biological ability to generate new human life because they are endowed with genitals. But they do not have the right to generate new human life precisely because they are not married to one another and have therefore failed to capacitate themselves by their own free choices to receive this life lovingly, to nourish it humanely, and to educate it in the love and service of God and man,[5] as practically all civilized societies, until very recently, have recognized.

Married men and women, unlike fornicators, adulterers, and rapists, have the right to generate new human life. They have this right because they have made themselves fit[6] to generate new human life. By choosing to give themselves unreservedly to one another in marriage they have given to themselves the identity of husbands and wives who have capacitated themselves to welcome a child lovingly and give it the home where it can take root and grow. Because they have committed themselves to one another and to the “goods” or “blessings” of marriage, they have made themselves “fit” to do what husbands and wives are supposed to do, and one thing they are supposed to do is “welcome life lovingly, nourish it humanely, and educate it in the love of God and man.”

When husbands and wives “give” themselves to one another in the act “proper and exclusive to spouses,” i.e., the marital act, they choose to engage in an act “apt” both for communicating a special kind of love, conjugal love, and of receiving the gift of new human life. When they choose to engage in this act they do not “make” love in any literal sense. They do not do so because love is not a product like a cake or a car that someone produces; it is a “gift” that one gives, and in marriage and the marital act it is the unconditional gift of one’s self.

Nor, when they choose to engage in the marital act do they “make” babies. When husbands and wives generate new human life through the marital act, they respect the baby that may be conceived as a result of that act as a person like themselves and do not treat it like a product they “make,” a product inferior to its producers and subject to quality controls. Even when they choose to engage in the marital act with the fervent hope that, through it, new human life will be given to them, the life begotten is not the product of their art but “is a gift supervening on and giving permanent embodiment to” the marital act itself.[7] When human life comes to be through the marital act, we can truly say that it comes as a gift and that the spouses are “begetting” or “procreating” new human life.

To put it another way: when a new human life–which can be regarded as a “created word” of the living God–comes to be through the marital act it is in truth “begotten, not made,” just as God’s eternal and uncreated Word, who became man (a “created word”) for our sake, is, as the Nicene-Constantinople Creed professes, “begotten, not made.”

3. The Perversity of Cloning

The Church teaches, and rightly so, that the only proper way to respect the dignity and sanctity of human life in its generation is to allow this life to be begotten in and through the marital act. To generate human life through actions that replace the conjugal act is to treat such life as a product inferior to its producers. Instead of respecting this life as a gift crowning the spouses’ bodily gift of themselves to one another, laboratory methods of reproduction reduce it to the product of technology.[8]

All forms of artificial reproduction are depersonalizing because they treat human life as a product and not as something of incomparable worth. But of all these forms cloning is the most perverse because it more radically tears the origin of human life from the bodily union of man and woman, from their one-flesh unity.[9]

Endnotes

 . Pontifical Academy for Life, Reflections on Cloning (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), pp. 10-11.

2. John Paul II, Homily at Capitol Mall, “‘Stand Up’ for Human Life,” October 7, 1979. Text in Origins: NC Documentary Service 9.18 (October 18, 1979), no. 3, p. 279.

3. See Aristotle, De Anima, 2.4; 415b13; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 18, a. 2.

4. John Paul II, “‘Stand Up’ for Human Life,” no. 4, p. 279.

5. Centuries ago St. Augustine rightly observed that one of the chief goods of marriage is children, who are “to be received lovingly, nourished humanely, and educated religiously,” i.e., in the love and service of God and man. See his De genesi ad literam, 9,7.

6. On this see Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, no. 12. There, in speaking of the marital act, Paul observes: “Because of its intrinsic nature [intimam rationem] the conjugal act, while uniting husband and wife in the most intimate of bonds, also makes them fit [the Latin text reads, eos idoneos facit] to bring forth new human life according to the laws written into their very nature as male and female.”

7. Catholic Bishops of England Committee on Bioethical Issues, In Vitro Fertilization: Morality and Public Policy (London: Catholic Information Services, 1983), no. 23.

8. On this see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation (Donum Vitae), February 22, 1987.

9. For a more in-depth analysis of laboratory methods of generating human life see the following: my own “Catholic Teaching on the Laborary Generation of Human Life,” in The Gift of Life: The Proceedings of a National Conference on the Vatican Instruction on Reproductive Ethics and Technology, eds. M. Wallace and T. R. Hilgers (Omaha: Pope Paul VI Institute Press, 1990), pp. 77-92; “Donum Vitae: Catholic Teaching Concerning Homologous In Vitro Fertilization,” in Infertility: A Crossroad of Faith, Medicine, and Technology, ed. Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J. (Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic Publshers, 1997), pp. 73-92; John S. Grabowski, “Made not Begotten: A Theological Analysisof Human Cloning,”Homiletic and Pastoral Review 98.9 (June, 1998) 16-21.


Dr. May’s article will appear in the NaProEthics journal issued by the Pope Paul Institute, Omaha, NE.

Dr. May is the Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology, John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Washington, DC, and Advisor to the Life Research & Communications Institute.