by Richard M. Doerflinger
December 20, 2002
If you've heard of Planned Parenthood's pro-abortion Christmas cards proclaiming "Choice on Earth," you may think you know what the biggest blasphemy of this Christmas season is. But think again.
Two groups have announced the impending birth of a cloned human being. Italian fertility expert Severino Antinori says a cloned baby will be born in Serbia in January. Not to be outdone, UFO cultists called the Raelians say they will produce a cloned baby by the end of December.
How did two separate groups end up in a tight race for the first live-born human clone at this time of year? The answer is that their timing is no coincidence. Both want to exploit the story of Jesus' birth, to give their dubious achievement the aura of a religious event.
This exploitation has been building for a long time. When a company called Advanced Cell Technology claimed it had created human embryos by cloning and parthenogenesis a year ago, the editor-in-chief of Scientific American compared this to a "virgin birth." As far back as 1997, the magazine Omni spoke of the "immaculate conception" of Dolly the sheep through cloning. And Fox News has used both these phrases to report on a (seemingly fictitious) Christian cult's plans to clone Jesus himself, using DNA from the shroud of Turin.
Those who favor human cloning have a mundane goal. Aware that committed Christians are among their most vigorous critics, they want to confuse the issue by wrapping their project in theological terms that they themselves neither believe nor understand.
For some, like the Raelians, this blasphemy is deliberate. The cult's founder has said that Christianity is an outmoded superstition, to be replaced by the "god" of science. But for reporters and others who misuse religious terms out of ignorance rather than hostility, it may be useful to review why these terms do not mean what cloning enthusiasts think they mean.
Cloning has no connection to the Immaculate Conception, which refers to our belief that Mary the mother of Jesus was conceived without original sin. This has nothing to do with asexual reproduction. Mary was conceived sexually by two human parents like the rest of us.
To compare cloning or parthenogenesis to the "virgin birth" of Jesus is only slightly less ignorant. Cloning groups say they are trying to help couples who have tried unsuccessfully to reproduce in every other way—so presumably no virgins are involved. More importantly, in Jesus' case the virgin birth was the sign of a great miracle, a new intervention of God in the world to give us His own Son. Cloning can only produce more members of the same old human species -- without even the degree of novelty and surprise that "ordinary" sexual reproduction offers! And Jesus' origin could not have been from parthenogenesis, which involves doubling an egg's genetic material without fertilization—that technique can only produce a female who is a genetic twin of the mother.
Cloning tries to reduce human procreation to the manufacture of a commodity—a "commodity" likely to be horribly damaged by such manipulation. Researchers who insist on pursuing it, despite its obvious dangers and its threat to human dignity, already dishonor God by mistreating the humans involved. No one should compound the problem by mocking Christ at Christmas.
Mr. Doerflinger is Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.