British Newspaper Reports on First-Ever Cloned Monkey Embryos

Published November 12, 2007

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A scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center has created for the first time dozens of viable cloned embryos from adult monkeys, according to an article today in the British newspaper, The Independent.

The report says Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov has pioneered a system of handling primate eggs that protects them during the cloning process. This would be the first documented cloning of a primate, after the rejection last year of fraudulent claims of human cloning by South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk.

Researchers are now working with monkey clones, but their stated goal — only slightly veiled by scientific lingo — seems that they'd like to figure out how to clone human beings.

Professor Alan Trounson of Manash University in Australia told The Independent, “This is 'proof of concept' for the primate. It has been thought by some to be too difficult in monkeys — and humans — but those of us who work with animals such as sheep and cattle thought that success rates would be much like that achieved in these species.”

Researchers are trying to calm concerns about human cloning by insisting their interest with primates is only in “therapeutic cloning,” meaning the creation and then destruction of an embryo, without implanting it into a womb and allowing it to come to full gestation (which, otherwise, would be “reproductive cloning”). Professor Don Wolf, once the director of the Oregon laboratory before his recent retirement, said, “The focus is now going to be on therapeutic cloning and using the non-human primate as a paradigm for therapeutic cloning for what you might be able to do clinically.”

It is fair to ask whether the intentional creation and destruction of human life (therapeutic cloning), for whatever purpose, is acceptable. But most people don’t dare to ask the question. Therapeutic cloning of human embryos is tolerated by large swaths of society because the human being in question is so small that its similarity to the rest of the human species is hidden from the human eye, and therefore, from the human heart.

But there is no reason for me to believe scientists will limit themselves to therapeutic cloning. After all, if we accept creating human life with the prior intention of killing it, what kind of warped personal ethic would keep us from implanting the newly fabricated cloned embryo into a human womb to allow it live? In fact, Dr. Wolf admits in the same interview that scientists at the Oregon laboratory have been trying to impregnate female monkeys with the newly-cloned embryos (blastocysts). So far, they have not been successful, but their goal seems to be clear. “It’s possible that we’re still just having bad luck. We’re producing maybe 1 in 20 or 30 cloned blastocysts that are ‘normal’ and capable of producing a pregnancy and we just haven’t got them into the animal recipient at the right time to allow implantation and pregnancy to occur,” he said.

Let’s not be naïve; if scientists are already trying to impregnate adult monkeys with the newly-cloned embryos, they are doing so because they want to know if “reproductive cloning” may also work with human beings.

If this scientific breakthrough in Oregon proves legitimate, it may serve the good purpose of instigating more realistic discussion about bioethics. The progression toward the acceptance of human cloning (both therapeutic and reproductive) is absolutely logical if we subscribe to what I like to call “lifestyle ethics.” It is based on the fabricated and self-attributed right to seek one’s comfort and survival at any cost, even if this means eliminating the rights and well-being of others, usually of the weakest members of society.

In a world where lifestyle ethics reigns, bioethics committees serve only one purpose — to justify in the public’s eye a choice that has already been made.

Are we OK with that? I think we’re better than that. But we must speak now, or forever hold our peace.

God bless, Father Jonathan
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