BIOETHICS: by News WeeklyNews Weekly
Church leaders reject all human cloning
, November 17, 2001
In an unprecedented joint action, 80 leaders of the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Churches, as well as leaders of the Baptist Union, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, with Jewish rabbis and an Islamic leader, medical practitioners, MPs and others, have declared their opposition to all human cloning.
Their action followed the recent Commonwealth House of Representatives Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee (the Andrews Committee) report on human cloning, which strongly recommended uniform national legislation on the issue, and the decision of the Carr Labor government in New South Wales to press ahead with its Human Reproductive Cloning and Trans-species Fertilisation Bill 2001
, despite the Andrews Committee report.
This is the first time that leaders of all major churches have spoken unanimously on this issue - and makes it likely that the churches, which have a clear role as moral guides to the community, will speak out with one voice on the issue, both nationally and within New South Wales.
Among those signing a joint media statement were the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Dr George Pell, the President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Professor James Haire, the Rev Tim Costello, President of the Baptist Union of Australia, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and Dr Peter McCullagh. They said:
"The decision of the Government of New South Wales to introduce its Human Reproductive Cloning and Trans-species Fertilisation Bill 2001
cuts across attempts to draft uniform Commonwealth-State legislation on this important subject, and the recent Commonwealth House of Representatives Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee (the Andrews Committee) report on human cloning.
"The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee report highlighted the potential benefits which stem cell therapy offers, and the accompanying need for the ethical issues which surround its use to be addressed before legislation is introduced.
"We believe that cloning of human embryos is wrong in principle, and have been joined by many community leaders, who have signed the attached statement."
The accompanying statement, titled "No Human Cloning", which was signed by 80 leaders of churches, medical specialists and others was called "an open letter to Australia's Federal, State and Territory Governments".
"Our community must determine appropriate standards for medical research involving human subjects. We ask our political leaders to have regard for the sacredness of all human beings, of whatever level of maturity, dependency or ability. We ask them to support adult stem cell research and to reject a policy of destroying some to treat others.
"Since the production of Dolly the sheep by somatic cell nuclear transfer in 1997, sections of the scientific community have campaigned to be allowed to clone human embryos. Such embryos could then be used to obtain embryonic stem cells for destructive experimentation.
"Some also want to use 'surplus' human embryos from IVF programs for such purposes. Despite some inflated claims, the fact is that these IVF stem cells would not be directly useful for therapies as they would not be compatible with the recipient's tissues. But they might be used for drug testing and other experimentation.
"We advise our Governments that producing human embryos by a cloning process or any other method of non-sexual reproduction is a grave offence to human dignity. It produces a laboratory embryo with no parents or guardians, in fact no one concerned to protect his or her interests. It means that all such embryos would be likely to be destroyed, since the advocates of human cloning experiments acknowledge that to allow them to develop would be unsafe.
"Much worse than cloning human beings to reproduce children would be the creation or use of human embryos for the purpose of destructive experimentation. The supposed distinction between 'therapeutic' and 'reproductive' cloning must be exposed for the furphy it is: to produce an embryo is always 'reproductive'; to destroy an embryo is never 'therapeutic'. The European Parliament has declared the distinction to be a sleight of hand and the Australian Health Ethics Committee described it as lacking transparency and concealing the truth.
"So-called 'therapeutic cloning' involves the manufacture of a new race of laboratory humans with the intention, right from the beginning, to exploit and destroy them as if they were laboratory animals. This would be the worst of all possible uses of the cloning technology.
"Cloning humans would also occasion a whole range of new ethical and social dilemmas, because the process radically dissociates procreation from the loving union of a man and a woman, and opens up new possibilities for designing our progeny, controlling their genetic destiny, or exploiting them for the advantage of others.
"We urge our political leaders to support the alternative, safer and longer established medical technology of using a patient's own tissues as a source of stem cells for developing therapies, especially as they have much greater direct therapeutic potential in terms of tissue compatibility.
"We ask them to fund and encourage ethical stem cell research on placental and adult tissue.
"We urge them to ensure that there are effective nation-wide prohibitions on unethical alternatives such as the production and destruction of human embryos for experimental purposes, and the creation of a market for unethically procured embryonic stem cells."