of New Biotechnologies"
Chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
April 1, 2004
Today the President's Council on Bioethics released a report on reproductive technologies that deserves attention from all concerned about technological abuse of human life.
Most welcome is the Council's support for banning specific activities that demean human dignity: creating human/animal hybrids; placing human embryos in the bodies of animals, or in women's wombs for purposes other than a live birth; buying, selling or patenting human embryos.
Also welcome are recommendations for monitoring in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics, to prevent harm to women and children. These proposals should be strengthened by Congress.
Unfortunately, two Council recommendations raise serious questions.
First, the Council favors banning the use of embryos in research beyond a certain number of days in their development. Notably, members did not agree on the number of days, or on the reason for this policy. Some believe such a ban would be better than the current situation, in which federal law does not ban privately funded embryo research at any stage. Others want to use this policy to weaken current laws on federally funded research, which respect the human embryo at every stage. The decisive fact is that human life is a continuum from the one-celled stage onward. Any cutoff point after this event is arbitrary -- providing no principled reason not to extend the time limit for destructive research, once the precedent is established. We should not start down this road, but explore ways to discourage research that attacks any human life.
Second, the Council recommends a ban on "conceiving a child" using procedures such as cloning, or the use of eggs derived from fetal tissue or embryonic stem cells. However, "conceiving a child" according to the Council means only the act of creating an embryo "with the intent to transfer it to a woman's body to initiate a pregnancy." A cloning ban based on what a researcher may "intend" to do with an embryo after cloning occurs is, first of all, unenforceable. More importantly, it misstates where the wrong lies in such procedures. Human cloning is wrong because it treats human life as an object of manufacture – not because a researcher, having created the embryonic human, may "intend" to allow him or her to survive. These procedures should simply be banned.