February 25, 2003
Dear Member of Congress:
Soon Congress will again vote on legislation to forbid human cloning, the Weldon/Stupak Human Cloning Prohibition Act (H.R. 534). The House overwhelmingly approved this bill in July 2001, and the case in favor of such approval is even stronger today.
In 2001, supporters of human cloning for biomedical research said they were about to usher in a new era in modern medicine. If only they were allowed to bring cloned human embryos to the blastocyst stage (4-7 days old) to destroy them for their stem cells, they could produce cures for Parkinson's disease, diabetes and other ailments.
Almost two years later we can see how exaggerated these claims were. Embryonic stem cell research in general has encountered numerous practical and scientific obstacles, including difficulties in culturing these stem cells and the cells' own tendency to form lethal tumors when transferred into animals. Medical use of cloning is even farther away, as years of effort have failed to produce a single documented case of a cloned human embryo surviving to the blastocyst stage. Moreover, animal trials suggest that even stem cells from cloned embryos may be rejected by host animals, and that the embryos may have to develop to the fetal or even adult stage to produce usable cells for therapies. A recent overview of human cloning research concluded that its therapeutic "promise," if any, is "all in the distant future" (G. Kolata, "The Promise of Therapeutic Cloning," The New York Times, Jan. 5, 2003). Medical research is developing new and promising treatments for Parkinson's, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses – but these are from adult stem cell research and other approaches that pose no moral problem.
While the practical case against all human cloning has become stronger, the basic moral issue has not changed. Cloning dehumanizes human procreation, treating new human life as a mere laboratory product made to specifications. Whether used to bring cloned human embryos to live birth (so-called "reproductive" cloning), or to exploit them as sources of "spare parts" for other humans (so-called "therapeutic" cloning), human cloning diminishes us all. The allegedly lofty goals proposed for cloning cannot outweigh the grim reality of the activity itself.
Some supporters of cloning for research purposes seek to hide this reality by tricks of language. They say they oppose "human cloning" but support "somatic cell nuclear transfer" or "SCNT," hoping no one will notice that SCNT is simply the scientific name for the cloning procedure. They even say they support only the use of cloning to "produce stem cells," evading the fact that they want to create live human embryos who will then be destroyed for their stem cells. The fact that supporters of such cloning must resort to these evasions to make their case only underscores how abhorrent the practice is to all of us when it is confronted squarely.
H.R. 801, offered by Rep. Greenwood as an alternative to the Weldon/Stupak ban, does not address the moral problem of cloning but aggravates it. Misnamed a "cloning prohibition act," it would directly involve the federal government in registering for-profit human cloning laboratories and supervising their manufacture of human beings as research material. By assigning this task to the Food and Drug Administration, Congress would treat the cloned human embryo as a marketable "biological product," to be exploited for benefit to others and tested for its safety and effectiveness. Congress would define a class of human beings whose only status is as a commodity.
Perhaps in recognition of animal trials suggesting that cloned humans may have to reach later fetal stages to produce "beneficial" cells and organs, H.R. 801 sets no time limit on how long cloned humans could be maintained artificially. It does, however, create a new federal crime: the crime of trying to "initiate a pregnancy" with a cloned human embryo. The bill's ten-year prison sentence would be imposed first and foremost upon those most directly involved in initiating a pregnancy – that is, upon pregnant women themselves, who would face enormous pressure to submit to an abortion if they fell under suspicion of violating the new law.
This is a case in which proposals offered as halfway or compromise measures are worse than doing nothing at all. In keeping with the growing national and international consensus that human cloning has no place in our society, Congress should ban this practice outright. I urge you to reject deceptive substitute measures and approve H.R. 534.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life Activities
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops