In order to understand what is at issue in the debate and how the Catholic Church views the matter, we must first understand the procedure used in cloning.
The first step was to gather the eggs (by laparoscopy) and sperm (by masturbation) and to put them in contact with each other in a glass dish (“in vitro”) for fertilization. Once fertilization occurred and the new embryos began development by dividing into two cells, the scientists intervened to separate the two cells, creating two different embryos with the same genetic information (cloning). The process of dividing the embryos required that researchers strip away the embryos’ outer coating, which is essential to development, and replace it with an artificial coating.
The experiment was considered successful when the cloned embryos began to grow and develop within the artificial coating. None of the 48 cloned embryos grew for more than six days, probably due in part to the fact that the scientists had used abnormal embryos; that is, embryos which came from eggs that had been fertilized by more than one sperm.
Because “in vitro” fertilization has been with us for almost 50 years and the cloning of animals for over 40 years, the Church has already offered clear teaching directing us morally with regard to reproductive technology. In February of 1987, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued “Donum Vitae,” the Latin title for the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation.” In this document, the Church gives us the fundamental reasons why cloning itself and the process of “in vitro” fertilization which it uses are immoral.
In light of how cloning degrades the human person, Pope John Paul’s challenge to us before he left America in 1987 bears all the more weight: “If you want equal justice for all and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life!… Every human person–no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society–is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival–yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.”
Let us heed the Pope’s challenge and come to the defense of our littlest brothers and sisters. For whatever we do for them, we do for Jesus Himself (Mt. 25:40).
Source: Sr. Terese Auer, OSF (1994) January – February “Spes Nostra”