There are those who argue that "therapeutic" cloning -- in which a human embryo is cloned and killed -- is a great advancement for the human race. But when I read the recent Science article describing how researchers in South Korea had cloned human embryos, it occurred to me that cloning might be the perfect sin. It just might break all Ten Commandments at once.
Follow my thinking on this.
In Korea, 16 women volunteered for "ovarian stimulation." That yielded 242 human eggs. Researchers managed to "squeeze" the nucleus from 176 of these and replace it with the nucleus of another cell from the same donor. These were chemically treated to induce division. In 30, a cloned embryo -- a little girl identical to her mother -- began to develop.
In the womb, these girls could grow into babies. But the researchers did not create them to live; they created them to die. (In Science, they mention that "overwhelming ethical constraints preclude any reproductive cloning attempts.")
Why did they kill these embryonic girls? To develop a line of cells they call "SCNT-hES-1." That stands for: Somatic cell nuclear transfer-human embryonic stem cells-1.
In the quest for SCNT-hES-1, they dismembered the embryos, trying to isolate their stem cells. In 20, they succeeded. In just one, they managed to culture the stem cells, creating a "line."
Thirty died in embryo so SCNT-hES-1 could live -- in the testicles of a mutant mouse, called a SCID, which lacks an immune system and thus won't reject human tissue.
This isn't science fiction; it's in Science.
"When undifferentiated SCNT-hES-1 were injected into the testis of SCID mice," explained the researchers, the cells grew into tumors that included "differentiated" human muscle, bone and other tissue.
Refine this process, and you can, as the researchers put it, "generate potentially unlimited sources of undifferentiated cells for research, with potential applications in tissue repair and transplantation medicine."
An ailing body could be patched back together with pieces torn from its own clone. Dr. Frankenstein's monster lives -- and soon will strain at its straps.
So, how does this square with the Ten Commandments? Take them in order:
1. Thou shalt not have strange gods before Me.
Is there a stranger god than a scientist who usurps the Creator by giving and taking life in a laboratory?
2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
(As a Catholic, I'll rely on the analysis of the Catholic Catechism for this one.) "God calls each one by name," says the catechism. "Everyone's name is sacred. . . . It bears respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it."
Cloning strips dignity from embryos by creating and killing them without naming them, or even properly calling them human beings. They're not Sarah or Stephen; they're steps on the way to SCNT-hES.
3. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.
Cloning's abuse of life goes around the clock. They don't empty the petri dishes Saturday and start again Monday.
4. Honor thy father and mother.
Cloning disrupts the unbroken chain of mother-father procreation that has perpetuated the race since Creation. Egg donors aren't honored as mothers; fatherhood is nullified.
5. Thou shalt not kill.
"Therapeutic" cloning creates embryos to kill them. Reproductive cloning can only be achieved if many embryos are sacrificed to perfect the process.
6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Cloning uses women to create children by means other than their husbands.
7. Thou shalt not steal.
"Therapeutic" cloning steals stem cells from embryos; all cloning steals a child's right to a natural father, conception, gestation and a unique place in the human family.
8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Cloning is predicated on the lie that a human embryo is not a human life.
9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.
Because of the many human eggs cloning demands, practitioners will covet women as donors.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, nor his field, nor his servant, nor his handmaid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is his.
Therapeutic cloners covet an embryo's stem cells. And is it unreasonable to assume the drive to clone arises from an inordinate desire for money or power?
I'm neither a scientist nor a theologian, and perhaps my analysis of the Ten Commandments here is imperfect. But for cloning to be moral it must comply with all 10, and for it to merit legality -- even in a secular society -- it cannot violate any precept necessary to protect our neighbors from harm. Let's see its defenders explain how that could be.