In a speech to a U.N. panel, the Vatican nevertheless appealing to the world community for research with adult stem cells that poses no ethical problems.
Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Holy See's permanent observer at the United Nations, expressed these points in a speech to the U.N. study commission now meeting to approve an "International Convention Against the Reproductive Cloning of Human Beings."
In his address Monday, he supported research with human adult stem cells "when pursued in a way that it does not offend human dignity and, if applied clinically, respects the principle of informed consent."
Archbishop Migliore stressed that "the cloning of human embryos to produce stem cells for potential therapeutic use has not only failed to demonstrate any verifiable scientific promise, it also raises serious ethical questions."
He noted that the "experimental or research cloning of embryonic stem cells requires the production of millions of human embryos with the intention of destroying them as part of the process of using them for scientific research."
"Destroying this embryo results in a deliberate suppression of an innocent human life," the archbishop said. "The early human embryo, not yet implanted into a womb, is nonetheless a human individual, with a human life."
Women also suffer the problems of a moral character that stem from human reproductive cloning, he said.
He explained that research in embryonic cells requires, in order "to be effective, a large number of human eggs or oocytes. The process of obtaining these eggs, which is not without risk, would use women's bodies as mere reservoirs of oocytes, instrumentalizing women and undermining their dignity."
To this must be added "the massive demand for human oocytes which would disproportionately affect the poor and marginalized women of the world, bringing a new type of injustice, victimization and discrimination into existence," Archbishop Migliore continued.
Thus, the Holy See holds that "only a comprehensive convention on human cloning, which would address all these issues and not just reproductive cloning, will be able to respond to the challenges of the 21st century on this issue," he said.
The archbishop further warned that, while a partial agreement might address immediately some issues related to human cloning, it could generate more problems.
He suggested instead that research in "adult" stem cells is a "scientific way" of great hopes and a "moral and valid way" for the good of all, not just of some individuals.
"With the passage of each day, their great scientific promise increases," he said. "Do we really want to render an effective and timely service to many of our fellow human beings suffering from incurable diseases? I am sure we all do."
Thus, the international community "must give a powerful signal" in this direction, he added.
The U.N. meeting represents a fundamental stage in the efforts to prohibit human cloning. It is the objective of the study commission, established at the initiative of France and Germany in 2001.
These two countries asked the United Nations to prohibit clearly the practice of reproductive cloning, which the international body had already said was worrying because of its consequences to human dignity.
However, the commission has limited itself to say a simple "no" to cloning with reproductive ends, leaving for another occasion the examination of "therapeutic" cloning, namely, the cloning of embryos for their subsequent use in the extraction of stem cells.
The study will continue until Oct. 3. The commission consequently might present a resolution to the General Assembly for debate Oct. 20.