School Cloning Project Raises Important Moral Questions

Bioethics   |   Bob McMorrow   |   Feb 2, 2011   |   6:03PM   |   Anchorage, AK

Cloning, inserting human brain cells into monkeys, or creating pigs with human blood may all seem like science fiction, yet these very experiments are being done in laboratories. Science fiction is becoming reality. Problematically, scientists are entering new frontiers of biological research faster than governments or theologians can decipher the ethical ramifications.

Prudence demands that a thorough discussion of the moral aspects of these situations take place, and this can only happen if the populace understands the basic terms and concepts involved.

The recent cloning experiment at Lumen Christi High School in Anchorage brought to light some of the ethical confusion found in this realm of science. The experiment took a gene from a jelly fish, cloned it, and inserted it into bacteria. This gene from the jelly fish caused the bacteria to glow. This school project caused some concern because the term “cloning” is very often misunderstood.

Often when we think about cloning, we think of duplicating complete organisms, but there are other types of cloning. Cloning is a process that creates an exact replica of genetic material whether it be a DNA fragment or a whole organism.

There are several different purposes behind cloning.

There is DNA cloning in which only a fragment of genetic material is replicated. This type of cloning has myriad uses and the morality of these experiments needs to be looked at on a case by case basis. Many of these cloning experiments are being used to modify our foods, create proteins and hormones for medical treatments, and much more. The Lumen Christi experiment falls under this category.

So-called “reproductive cloning” is often thought of when we hear the word, “clone.”  This is the duplication of a whole organism by putting the complete DNA from one organism into the egg of another and allowing the resulting embryo to mature. This has been done successfully with animals, such as Dolly the sheep. The manufacturing of humans through cloning, however, is immoral as the Catholic Church recognizes the right of humans to be conceived and born from the procreative act of their parents.

So-called “therapeutic cloning” starts off the same but instead of allowing the embryo to reach maturity and be born, the unborn child is killed for scientific research. The Catholic Church opposes the manufacturing and destruction of human embryos for scientific research.

Regardless of the various aims of such experiments, the moral principles involved are the same. The foundation of the morality of all these issues must be the authentic respect of human life. People are created in the image of God and therefore must be treated a certain way. Any experiment that is intrinsically immoral must not be done, regardless of any supposed potential benefits for humanity.

Dangerous ideas from scientists and philosophers such as Jason Eberl serve as an example as to why Catholics need to help direct the moral discussions in our country. He suggests that we should use experiments to give human intelligence to animals so that “A class of intelligent creatures could be developed that would work in the most menial or dangerous of jobs.” The ethical ramifications of such experiments would be disastrous.

As Catholics, we must be a voice of authentic morality in science. The church is not anti-science but it certainly understands that just because something can be done, does not mean that it should be done. There must be standards and boundaries established in our scientific research. Our Catholic schools and families can be places where both faith and reason help direct our scientific progress. Note: Bob McMorrow teaches theology and ethics at Lumen Christi High School in Anchorage. This article originally appeared in the Catholic Anchor newspaper and is reproduced here with permission.