Soulless clones and spineless men

People are intrigued and repulsed by the idea of cloning humans. They sometimes express doubts that a cloned baby would have a soul, because the whole idea seems so offensive. They suppose that God would “refuse to cooperate” with cloning by never infusing a soul into a cloned human embryo.

Yet back in 1978 when the first human baby was created in a Petri dish by in vitro fertilization, one might likewise have argued that such an immoral action would result in God’s not infusing a soul into any baby that was manufactured in laboratory glassware. We currently have more than 1 million babies produced this way, all of whom do have souls infused by God.

Likewise even though we readily see how dropping nuclear bombs on cities of innocent people would be gravely offensive, we know that God does not “refuse to cooperate” by suddenly suspending the laws of physics that permit such bombs to detonate. Clearly, God chooses to respect the laws of physics he has established, and likewise he remains beholden to the powers of biology that he himself has set in motion, even if it is true that those same powers can be used for offensive ends by man.

Apart from purely miraculous interventions, which appear to be quite rare, God does not step in and break the humanly-initiated chain of causality which allows sinful actions and evil choices to play out with all their consequences. He invites us to make moral and upright choices ourselves, so that evil in our world might not spread further, but he doesn’t actively prevent us from doing evil by abrogating physical laws or refusing to ensoul embryos.

Human cloning, in the final analysis, is simply a technique for making an identical twin of someone, and while all of us have met various sets of identical twins over the years, none of us has ever met a pair where one of the twins lacked a soul. By similar reasoning, it is clear that the idea of a “soulless clone” is little more than an urban legend. Yet the mere discussion of a “soulless clone” serves to remind us how strikingly immoral human cloning really is, even as the mass media and various lawmakers vigorously promote a form of cloning known as therapeutic cloning.

The procedure for cloning is fairly simple in concept -- it involves taking a nucleus (the “full genetic package”) from a body cell, like a skin cell, and transferring it inside a woman’s egg, after the egg’s own nucleus (the “half genetic package”) has been taken out. The presence of the “full genetic package” creates a new human embryo. That newly-cloned embryo can either be killed in the laboratory for research, or allowed to live and grow by implanting it into a uterus, resulting in the birth of a cloned baby. That baby would be an identical twin of the person who donated the skin cell, in the same way that Dolly the sheep was the identical twin of her mother who donated the mammary cell used to start the process off. Grave ethical violations are always involved in both forms of cloning: “reproductive cloning” and so-called “therapeutic cloning.”

Imagine, for purposes of illustration, that the skin cell used for cloning was donated by Sen. Ted Kennedy. The resulting cloned embryo would be the identical twin of the skin cell donor, so Sen. Kennedy would have an identical twin brother who was an embryo. Two uses for that embryo could be proposed:

1) “Reproductive cloning” -- the cloned embryo could be implanted into a woman’s uterus to make a live-born, cloned child (Sen. Kennedy’s younger identical twin who would be his gurgling baby brother).

2) “Therapeutic cloning” -- the cloned embryonic brother of the senator would not be implanted, but rather, he would be violated as an embryo, at the hands of researchers who would harvest his stem cells (for various noble purposes, like getting genetically matched cells to treat the senator for serious ailments as the senator gets older and more frail). This approach is sometimes termed “clone and kill.”

Taking advantage of others to use them as our own “repair kits,” while convenient for those experiencing bodily decline, is also intrinsically immoral. Sen. Kennedy himself, like many other elected officials in our country, has promoted laws to encourage this form of research cloning.

“The advantage of therapeutic cloning,” Kennedy told the Boston Globe, “is, one, you can get the exact genetic match, and you eliminate the real possibilities of rejection, which is going to be key in this whole area of research.”

“Banning it or prohibiting it, making it illegal, would be a major mistake. It’s a big opportunity,” he added. “This is the time, and now is the moment, and Massachusetts is the place.”

The senator is certainly correct about the benefits of an exact genetic match, because by having the same genes, a pair of identical twins can use each other’s organs for transplants, and they will accept those transplants without the need for any immunosuppressive drugs. But the deeper truth is that in therapeutic cloning, the cloned twin is not even given a chance at life, but he or she is expressly created for premeditated killing at the hands of researchers in order to benefit his or her older genetic match.

This sinister research represents a direct form of human exploitation, where the powerful and the wealthy violate the young and powerless. In fact, a patient who used therapeutic cloning would be destroying a family member, a blood relative, their own identical twin brother or sister, to obtain desired cells and tissues. When you clone to make a live born baby, on the other hand, as wrong as this still is, at least the cloned twin survives, breathes the same air, and has the chance to enjoy the good life that the rest of us enjoy each day.

The real paradox, then, is how our moral sensitivities have become so coarsened that many can no longer see how therapeutic cloning is actually worse, from the moral point of view, than reproductive cloning. Therapeutic cloning doesn’t produce soulless clones, but it does tempt some spineless politicians and scientists to radically misuse the remarkable powers of science that God has given us.

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Ph.D. earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale and did post-doctoral work at Harvard. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the Director of Education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. See