Today’s question is: “Does embryonic stem cell research involve cloning? And if it does, I wonder, then, does ALL stem cell research inevitably involve cloning?”
This question is in response to the following challenge given to a pro-life woman by a well-meaning, yet misinformed journalist who says:
"The whole point of embryonic stem cell research is to get to the point where a person needing the benefits of such therapy as stem cell technology may offer, would contribute his or her DNA to an unfertilized egg in order to engender a substance that could be re-injected into the donor to effectuate replacement of defective conditions."
Embryonic stem cell research does not necessarily involve cloning. Embryos fertilized in clinics serve the primary purpose of human reproduction, and any embryo that is not implanted is frozen for future use. Because so many embryos are created, most are not used. Researchers, upon discovering the benefit of adult stem cell research and the fact that embryos contain stem cells as well, desire to use these embryos for research. Extracting stem cells from embryos necessitates killing that embryo.
Here is a little more about IVF and fertilization. The cooperation of the female body and the male body has a natural process by which fertilization occurs. It is a matter of natural selection that only those sperm that are properly developed will have the stamina to travel through the woman's womb to meet the egg in the upper fallopian tube. Naturally, those sperm that are mutated will not have this stamina, and will not make the journey. Hence, nature (God) has its own way of avoiding birth defects and genetic mutations. When fertilization occurs "in vitro," there is no natural selection. All of the sperm provided by the male are candidates for fertilizing the woman's egg. This leads to an increase in birth defects, and also decreases the chance of success in IVF. (Also, sperm are obtained for IVF by means of masturbation, which is explicitly condemned by the Church. Please see CCC 2352 and 2396 and Persona Humana section IX)
Cloning is a grave offense against life for many reasons. First, it is manipulative of life. Next, clones are used for research. Though not technically "fertilized," it is life-generating. Not only do humans not have the right to create clones, we do not have the right to perform research that includes killing.
Clones are used for two purposes. First, for the sake of reproduction (though this creates so many ethical dilemmas that most people are opposed to reproductive cloning) and second for research (this is called therapeutic cloning). So, embryonic stem cell research using a cloned embryo is called "therapeutic cloning." It would only be logical that if a man (or woman) has a genetic disorder, cloning him for the sake of research or obtaining organs for transplantation would not be beneficial. Not only would the clone be open to the same genetic defects, genetic mutations may occur in the cloning process.
This article by the Bishop of Wilmington, DE may be helpful as well.
As you can read further from the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics, there are yet to be any successful scientific advances by embryonic stem cell research, however with adult stem cell research, there have been many success! Americans to Ban Cloning provide helpful scientific information on the dangers of cloning.
It is also important to remember that there is a difference between what we can do and what we should do. I can easily stand in the middle of a busy road because I want to take a picture of on-coming traffic. The end result may be a great picture, however the end result will also be my death or the death of other drivers due to a massive accident! I can stand in the middle of that road, but I shouldn't do it, no matter how great the picture may be!