Medical Federation's Statement on Human Cloning by Korean Scientists

"Not Acceptable to Deliberately Sacrifice the Life of Any Human Being"

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ROME, FEB. 26, 2004 ( The World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC) issued this statement following the recent news of the cloning of a human embryo by Korean scientists. The text was adapted slightly here.

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The recent announcement of the publication in "Science" of the successful development, by a Korean group of scientists, of 30 human embryos up to the stage of blastocysts, raises important questions for the entire scientific and medical community.

According to newspapers, the Korean team collected 242 eggs, from which they succeeded in cloning 30 blastocysts, early stage embryos containing a mere 100 cells. From those, they harvested just one colony of viable stem cells.

This is the first important achievement in cloning human embryos in the stem-cell quest that up till now many scientists have attempted without significant results.

As opposed to the unfounded mythology of Raelians and press announcements made by doctors in search of easy fame but without solid scientific grounds, such as, for example, Italian Dr. Antinori, the Korean announcement came from a sound and respected scientific group. Their work, funded by governmental agencies, will be published in a scientific journal that carefully evaluates the quality of results presented.

But this is not all. Korean scientists said their achievement is a contribution to the cure of important diseases, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and diabetes. Moreover, they ascribed an intrinsic moral value to their initiative.

In our view, this is precisely why their results are more dramatically serious and need special attention. They call for the immediate organization of a strong cultural resistance on the part of bio-scientists and medical doctors.

In fact, it is immoral to invest enormous amounts of money (including public funds), diverting them from their use to solve modern worldwide tragedies, such as AIDS, malaria or malnutrition.

It is immoral to continue to seek the support of public opinion for these projects, with the promise of imminent treatment for many chronic diseases, although there is no certainty of its feasibility for many years to come, and any preparatory investigation on animals has been deliberately overlooked.

It is immoral to present future results as a gift for mankind, though it is clear that treatment will be very expensive, and that it will be set up by organizations asking for enormous financial rewards.

More importantly, these projects are immoral because researchers must kill the cloned human embryos to extract stem cells.

It is not acceptable to deliberately sacrifice the life of any human being, even if this is done in order to relieve the health problems of other human beings.

A philanthropy that does not recognize the intrinsic value of human beings, despite the fact they are small and powerless embryos, is not humane.

We are convinced that, rather than being humanitarian, this attitude reflects utilitarian views, permitting the manipulation of public opinion, and providing support to areas of economic interest, such as research on embryonic stem cells. At the same time, it surrounds studies, such as those carried out on adult stem cells, with silence, although these studies have already produced important scientific and even clinical results.

But, again, this is not all. It is dangerous to promote the use of embryonic stem cells without considering their high potential for uncontrolled growth, which will translate to a high risk of malignancy, whenever it is used for tissue or organ repair or replacement.

Contrary to the case in other countries, such as, for example, the United States, Korea passed a bill on bioethics last December which permits human cloning for medical uses, and funded this controversial study on the basis of that bill.

We ask that public authorities, universities and the media provide realistic information on the true situation with reference to the therapeutic possibilities made available by embryonic and adult stem cells.

We call for a total ban on the cloning of human embryos. Instead, adult stem cell research should be encouraged.

If this does not happen, it is possible that the same lack of respect for the frailest of human beings which today produces blastocysts for research, tomorrow will not hesitate to clone human embryos in order to produce serial children.

Now is the time to stop: It is difficult to control the use of human embryos, once their production has been permitted!

Professor Gian Luigi Gigli, M.D., president