Statement of the Standing Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan – CONCERNING RESEARCH ON HUMAN CLONING


To All Men and Women of Good Will: Introduction The British science journal “Nature” recently carr […]

To All Men and Women of Good Will:

The British science journal “Nature” recently carried an article describing the successful cloning of a sheep at the Roslin Institute in Scotland. This experiment, the first of its kind ever, was the work of a team headed by Drs. Wilmut and Campbell. The process is quite different from the cloning which uses fertilized and unfertilized egg cells only to produce mammals such as cows and mice. In the Roslin method, the journal says, “they start with a living cell taken from a living body and combine its nucleus with a non-embryonic egg cell from which the nucleus has been removed. ”
The success of the Roslin experiment signals new developments in the cloning of farm animals but also shows that cloning of the human species is a real possibility. In the latter case, however, we are concerned with the essence of the human person, and the very possibility of human cloning immediately started a wave of protest in countries across Europe and America, as well as in Japan. The majority of the critics held that, “Research into cloning human beings should be forbidden, because it injures the dignity of the human person. ”
It is our opinion as the members of the Standing Committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan that research into human cloning is a violation of human dignity and the basic principles of human reproduction. It is to be feared that the results could be genetically harmful, and it opens the way to invade an area that essentially belongs to God. We wish to state publicly that we are against research into cloning human beings.

1. Before setting out the official position of the Catholic Church on this issue,
we present the principal ethical reasons western society advances against artificial reduplication of human beings. The Catholic Church is basically in agreement with these reasons.
a) Human cloning is contrary to the dispensation of nature in that it differs from the basic principles governing human reproduction.
b) The danger exists that genetic duplication of human beings will have weak genetic controls.
c) The very act of cloning is itself an interference with human life.
d) If scientists begin genetic duplication of superior human beings, they will pave the way for a widespread eugenics mentality.
e) To produce a brother or sister by cloning, for the purpose of providing a sick sibling with bone marrow, for instance, would be to reduce the human beings to mere donors of bodily organs.

2. The Catholic Church is opposed to this kind of research for the following reasons as well.
First of all, a human being is born of the union between a man and a woman and is endowed with the right to be reared by his or her parents. The duty and responsibility of guarding this right rests on the parents. This is the dispensation of providence. Indeed, this duty and responsibility rests not only on the parents but on society itself. But who will bear this responsibility for a human person who is the product of cloning? A human person is meant to grow up soundly in the home provided by one’s parents, and eventually to take one’s place in society. A cloned person would be deprived of all these privileges.
Even supposing a human being to be born a product of a cloning experiment, it must not be forgotten that he or she will be a person endowed with absolute worth and dignity. Such a person will be a perfect human being and genetically in the same position as a natural identical twin. Just as identical twins enjoy absolute value and dignity, so also would a cloned human being. However, the creation of human beings blessed with that absolute worth and dignity is a right that belongs to God alone. It is not entrusted to human ingenuity.
As the Catholic Church has always taught, a human being becomes a human being at the moment the oocyte becomes fertilized. Unless done in order to improve or preserve the child’s health, interference with a fetus (this includes the fertilized ovum or embryo) for genetic diagnosis or manipulation is forbidden (Cf. Encyclical of John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 63).
We also wish to point out that research into human cloning, even from a medical or therapeutic viewpoint, raises problems: the purpose of the research is not clear; the unknown factors too many. The natural object of scientific skill and therapeutic medicine is the preservation of human life. What objectives research into cloning human beings could have is not clear at all.

In Conclusion

The ethical problems surrounding clone research, at present receiving such publicity due to the birth of a cloned sheep, were understood at an early stage and argued about worldwide, especially in Christian countries. We must honestly admit, however, that in Japan the problem was not widely discussed or investigated for its implications in the field of ethics and the theology of human life. It is our hope that the problems that cloning research gives rise to will be argued and sifted thoroughly, and moral guidelines clearly established. However, we wish to emphasize once more that no matter what way the argument develops, the act of creating a human being endowed with absolute worth and dignity is the province of God alone and can never be entrusted to human enterprise.

May 3, 1997
Standing Committee, Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan