Testimony on HB 1424 -- Ban on Human Cloning

To: House Education Committee
From: Christopher Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: House Bill 1424 -- Ban on Human Cloning
Date: February 10, 2003

The North Dakota Catholic Conference supports House Bill 1424 to ban human cloning in North Dakota.

Advances in science and technology can provide great opportunities for improving life and society. Those same advances, however, can open a Pandora’s Box of ethical and moral problems and unintended consequences. All application of science must, therefore, be rooted in an ethical framework and, when necessary, certain acts must be proscribed.

A little over a year ago, Advanced Cell Technologies announced that it had created a human embryo through cloning. A few months ago, another organization claimed that the first human baby produced by cloning had been born. Scientists have questioned the veracity of both claims. Nevertheless, there is general agreement that the technology to clone humans is available and, unless prohibited, human cloning will occur. House Bill 1424 addresses this problem by banning human cloning in North Dakota.

What is Human Cloning?

A basic review of the science of human cloning will help us understand the true scope and limits of House Bill 1424. Human cloning is the creation of a human being genetically identical to another human being already in existence, or who previously existed. This is not possible by nature. To be more specific, House Bill 1424, with the corrections, defines human cloning as “human asexual reproduction, accomplished by introducing the genetic material of a human somatic cell into a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte, the nucleus of which has been or will be removed or inactivated, to produce a living organism with a human predominantly human genetic constitution.”

At this point, it may help to break the process of human cloning to its basic parts. The techniques employed in the process may differ, but the process itself is always similar, by definition of what is human cloning. In natural sexual reproduction,
the new organism is created by the joining of two gamete cells, one male and one female. In humans, each gamete cell has 23 chromosomes. The genetic make-up of every human being is determined by the combination of the 23 chromosomes from the female and the 23 chromosomes from the male.

A somatic cell is basically a non-gamete cell. Every somatic cell, such as a skin cell or blood cell, contains the set of 46 chromosomes that make up that person’s unique genetic identity.

In cloning, the nucleus, including genetic material, of the egg (female germ or gamete cell) is removed or inactivated. The genetic material -- all 46 chromosomes -- of a somatic cell is removed and placed into the egg cell. The egg and its new genetic material is triggered to start the process of division to become an embryo. This process of somatic cell nuclear transfer is cloning.

At this point, the new individuated organism is not biologically different from an organism at the same stage created through natural reproduction. The high death and mutation rate of clones indicates that there exist some not yet determined differences, but as to what it is, there is no scientific or moral difference between a cloned embryo and an embryo created through sexual reproduction.

This is an important fact to remember. Some persons wish to obfuscate the scientific facts and, therefore, the moral consequences, regarding human cloning by claiming, for example, that somatic cell nuclear transfer does not create an embryo or that cloning does not actually occur unless the new organism is implanted for reproductive purposes. These word games contradict the scientific community’s acknowledgement that somatic cell nuclear transfer creates an embryo and that cloning is the creation of an organism -- in this case an embryo -- genetically identical to another.

Stem Cell Research

Discussions about human cloning are often complicated by confusion regarding stem cell research. Clarifying some of the facts about stem cell research will help with understanding the scope and limits of House Bill 1424.

Stem cells are pluripotent cells that have the potential to be “directed” to develop into specific types of cells. For that reason, they hold great promise for medical treatments. There exist two types of stem cells. Adult stem cells are those obtained from fully developed tissue, such as bone marrow, blood, or umbilical cords. Embryonic stem cells are obtained from human embryos at the blastocyst stage and require killing the embryo. The relationship between stem cell research and human cloning comes from the desire of some researchers to create human embryos through cloning solely for the purpose of destroying them to obtain embryonic stem cells.

Some proponents of cloning for embryonic stem cells have argued that the cloning process merely creates stem cells for research, not human embryos. This is not true. As noted above, the consensus in the scientific community is that cloning creates embryos. Moreover, embryonic stem cells can only be obtained from embryos.

“Therapeutic” and “Reproductive” Cloning

The desire to create cloned embryos solely for the purpose of obtaining embryonic stem cells has given rise to the labels of “therapeutic” and “reproductive” cloning and an attempt to differentiate the ethical consequences of the two. These labels, however, are misleading. There is no difference between “therapeutic” cloning and “reproductive” cloning. The cloning process and the created embryo is the same for both uses. If one is wrong, the other is wrong. The intended use of the embryo does not change the biological or moral status of the embryo. To embrace this idea is to accept a dangerous concept of utilitarianism and the notion that the end justifies the means. Moreover, the term “therapeutic” is itself misleading since the cloning process and the later killing of the embryo for its stem cells is not a therapy at all. To describe it as such is another example of obfuscating the facts by appealing to the intended result.

Proponents of making the distinction argue that the law should ban only “reproductive” cloning and that “therapeutic” cloning should be permitted. In addition to the problems with this logic mentioned above, such a ban would also result in a greater evil than no ban at all. A ban on only reproductive cloning is not a ban on cloning at all. It is only a ban on letting the human embryo live a full life. Cloning would be allowed and killing a cloned human would be mandated.

The argument that banning “therapeutic” cloning would block stem cell research is also flawed. Nothing in HB 1424 would prevent either adult or embryonic stem cell research. It only would prevent the creation of cloned human embryos.

House Bill 1424

With these facts in mind, the language of House Bill 1424 becomes more understandable. The definitions are designed to reflect the facts regarding human cloning and to exclude non-human cloning, assisted reproductive techniques not involving human cloning, and other research and treatments.

Section 2 prohibits performing or participating in human cloning and engaging in the trafficking of human clones or the materials necessary for human cloning. Subsection 2 of Section 2 is to reiterate that the bill bans only human cloning and not other techniques.

The Moral Imperative

Human cloning raises a number of moral concerns that the state must address. The first set of concerns revolve around the creation process itself. The creation of human life through cloning is fundamentally wrong. It disrespects human dignity and the gift of creation by entirely supplanting the natural process with an artificial mechanism. It robs the created human being of the gift of unique identity and a biological mother and father. Finally, for whatever the purpose, human cloning exploits human beings for our own self-gratification, whether it be our desire for new medical treatments or our desire to have children on our own genetic terms.

The second set of moral problems revolves around the uses of human cloning. Even if disagreement exists as to whether a human embryo has the status of a “person,” the fact that it is a human life cannot be reasonably refuted. Destruction of any human life for purposes of research is reprehensible. Cloning for purposes of reproduction also carries with it moral consequences. The failure rate in both deaths and mutations in cloning is high. Subjecting cloned human beings to that risk is impermissible.
Science has brought us to a crossroad. Society, however, is never at the mercy of science. The application of science is a human endeavor and, as such, how we react to this crossroad is our decision. When choosing how and where to go, we should be mindful of these words from Deuteronomy: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live . . .” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

We urge a Do Pass recommendation on HB 1424.