Cloning Raises Ethical Questions about Life, Human Limits and Love

Article excerpt

ROME -- The cloning of a Finn Dorset sheep in a Scottish laboratory last week was met with alarm in many European quarters.

Some pundits compared reaction to the "immaculate conception" of "Dolly" to that of 16th century hierarchs when they first read Galileo's Dialogue on Astronomy or to demure 19th century Londoners hearing the news of Darwin's Origin of Species.

But the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano headlined its editorial "An urgent appeal to reason and to humanity," noting that humans have "the right to be born in a human way and not in a laboratory." To oppose cloning is not to impede progress or restrict science, the paper said, but rather to "safeguard those values that constitute the human being and its existence."

London's weekly Catholic Herald hoped the Vatican would "provide the worldwide forum" for an urgent study of the ethics of genetic engineering and called for the church to "go further" in speaking out against aspects of human procreation involving unnatural processes.

The paper noted the "disastrous consequences" that have resulted from interference with the natural order. It pointed to Britain's own "mad cow disease," which it said was made possible by a decision "to override nature by feeding herbivores with meat." It was an act, said the Herald, specifically prohibited by the Old Testament books Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Britain's 1995 Nobel Peace laureate and campaigner against nuclear weapons, physicist Joseph Rotblat, said that genetic engineering could result "in other means of mass destruction, maybe more readilly available even than nuclear weapons."

In Paris, Axel Kamm, who directs the Cochin Institute genetics laboratory, speculated that lesbians would one day demand the right to clone. Francois Mattei, the father of France's laws on bioethics asked the United Nations to intervene to regulate cloning to avoid abuses.

German newspapers took greatest exception to Dolly. Die Welt reasoned that Hitler "would have used this technology intensively if it were available at the time" while the business daily Handelsblatt compared the impact of Dolly's birth to that of a nuclear blast.

More than anything else, it raises questions of ethics, the paper said.

In Rome those questions filled the media and could be heard in the corridors and classrooms of some of the pontifical universities and institutes visited by NCR. At the Bioethics Institute of the Catholic University of Rome, its director, Msgr. Elio Sgreccia, pointed to the need to respect animals. He said, "It was wrong to alter an animal species," although experiments on an individual animal for "grave reasons of scientific research" could be allowed.

At the Alphonsianum Institute, Franciscan Fr. Mauricio Faggioni called Dolly's cloning "an intervention at the roots of life," and warned that "man has insufficient wisdom and knowledge to control this power. …