OHSU photo
A researcher extracts nucleus of egg cell in process to produce human stem cells.
OHSU photo
A researcher extracts nucleus of egg cell in process to produce human stem cells.
Human cloning for any purpose is inconsistent with the moral responsibility to “treat each member of the human family as a unique gift of God, as a person with his or her own inherent dignity,” says one of the Catholic Church's top pro-life leaders.

Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made his comments in response to news May 15 that researchers in Oregon have succeeded cloning human embryos and then destroying them to take embryonic stem cells.

Cardinal O'Malley said the goal of producing genetically matched stem cells for research and possible therapies is already being addressed by scientific advances that do not pose the same moral problems.

“Creating new human lives in the laboratory solely to destroy them is an abuse denounced even by many who do not share the Catholic Church’s convictions on human life,” the cardinal said in a statement. He added that this way of making embryos will also be taken up by people who want to produce cloned children as “copies” of other people.  

“Whether used for one purpose or the other, human cloning treats human beings as products, manufactured to order to suit other people’s wishes,” the cardinal said. “A technical advance in human cloning is not progress for humanity but its opposite.”

The Oregon team produced about 120 embryos and used them to create six stem cell lines. Oregon Health and Science University hailed the development, saying the embryos produced were not fertilized and could never have developed into human babies.

It was the OHSU Oregon National Primate Research Center where researchers reprogrammed human skin cells to become embryonic stem cells capable of transforming into any other cell type in the body. The researchers say stem cell therapies may be able to replace cells damaged through injury or illness like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cardiac disease and spinal cord injuries.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a senior scientist at the primate center, led the project. The research will be published in the journal Cell June 6.

The technique involves transplanting the nucleus of one cell, containing an individual’s DNA, into an egg cell that has had its genetic material removed. The unfertilized egg cell then develops and eventually produces stem cells.

“While there is much work to be done in developing safe and effective stem cell treatments, we believe this is a significant step forward in developing the cells that could be used in regenerative medicine,” Mitalipov says.

Stem cells can turn into any cell of the body. Scientists have had success in using adult stem cells, but many say embryonic stem cells hold more promise. The Oregon team used monkey cells to learn how to work on the more fragile human cells.

Father Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for National Catholic Bioethics Center,  reiterated his opposition to embryo cloning, calling the approach unethical.
"It involves the decision to utilize early human beings as repositories for obtaining desired cells," he told the Associated Press. "You're creating them only to destroy them."