Playing God by Manipulating Man: The Facts and Frauds of Human Cloning

Dianne N. Irving
Missouri Catholic Conference Workshop
Jefferson City, Missouri
Copyright October 4, 2003
Reproduced with Permission

Playing God by Manipulating Man: The Facts and Frauds of Human Cloning1

"Human life is thus given a sacred and inviolable character, which reflects the inviolability of the Creator himself. Precisely for this reason God will severely judge every violation of the commandment 'You shall not kill,' the commandment which is at the basis of all life together in society. ... Only Satan can delight therein: for through his envy death entered the world (Wis 2:24). He who is 'a murderer from the beginning,' is also 'a liar and the father of lies' (Jn 8:44). By deceiving man he leads him to projects of sin and death, making them appear as goals and fruits of life." (Evangelium vitae, Par. 53)

I. Introduction: Manipulating the Cloning Debates

These powerful words from EV encapsulate in effect what I am going to address here today with you -- the purposeful and massive manipulation of language, science, ethics, legislation and politicians in order to lead us astray from Truth and Reality. We are being led into "believing" that what are being manipulated and dissected in petri dishes in laboratories across the world during human cloning experiments are not really innocent living human beings who will be killed in the process. Rather they are "just a bunch of stem cells". Indeed the same cloning and killing of human beings is happening right here, right now, in the honorable State of Missouri.2 This is obviously not to say of course that all science and all scientists are deceptive; nor to deny the enormous good that science has brought mankind. But it is time to point out, in the spirit of "fraternal love", that many involved in the pursuit of human cloning pursue that goal deceptively.

This propensity of man for manipulation, power and abuse is hardly unique to our contemporary scene. The temptation "to be like unto gods" has been with us since the dawn of time -- and is currently flooding our culture, e.g., through multiple New Age3 cosmologies and intrigues. Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the cloning industry tempts us today by assuring us that "Ye shall surely not shall be as gods" -- the classic gnostic exhortation! Yet while promising us godlike powers to "create", to "recreate", or to design our own new humanity and immortality through such technologies as human cloning and human genetic engineering, they lay waste the human people and human culture around them.4 It is only the goal that counts to them -- their goal. The means used to reach that goal, as Nietzsche would say, are meaningless. But are they?

Josef Pieper, a contemporary Catholic philosopher and theologian, recently wrote an amazing small book concerning the advertising and communications industries, The Abuse of Language -- Abuse of Power5, that is astonishingly applicable to the rhetoric found in the human cloning and human embryonic stem cell research debates today. Such rhetoric, he notes, is not new. Plato attributed it to the Sophists whom he described as, "highly paid and popularly applauded experts in the art of twisting words; able to sweet-talk something bad into something good and to turn white into black."6 The truth itself cannot in all honesty be the decisive concern of those who aim at verbal artistry, he notes. Rather, as Plato forces Gorgias to admit, "such sophisticated language, disconnected from the roots of truth, in fact pursues some ulterior motives." Language is thus invariably turned into an instrument of power.7

And this is indeed what we are experiencing today in these cloning debates -- the abuse of language, especially scientific language, in the pursuit of power. We can no longer afford to shove the issue of human cloning back into the innermost recesses of our consciousnesses, in the drawers labeled "not my problem". Nor can we allow ourselves to be so profoundly deceived and confused by the rhetoric of cloning. Far too much is at stake.

My challenge here is to try to do a little something about this very sophisticated contemporary sophistic rhetoric by identifying some of the abusive language they have perpetrated in order to sell their products. And all it will take is to present the simple objective scientific truth, the truth that a new unique innocent vulnerable living human being begins to exist immediately at both fertilization and at cloning. And thus to intentionally kill these innocent human beings is morally illicit and should be legally banned. Without truth -- even scientific truth -- there is eventually no faith or freedom -- even scientific freedom.

II. Manipulating Scientific Facts of Human Embryology in Human Sexual Reproduction

Human beings can be reproduced both sexually (fertilization -- both natural, and artificial, e.g., as in IVF) and asexually (cloning, e.g., as in human monozygotic twinning). There have been a multitude of ways that scientific terms have been falsified and manipulated over the years to make us think (erroneously) that the immediate product of both sexual and a-sexual human reproduction is something other than what it really is -- a new living single-cell innocent human being.

Many of the deceptions now being used in the human cloning debates are really nothing more than the repackaging of the same old deceptions that have already been perpetrated over the last 30 years in the abortion debates -- many of which you are all probably already familiar with. So I will start with a brief summary of the accurate, long-known and long-established scientific facts of human sexual reproduction, noting particularly those terms that have been manipulated within the abortion, and now the human cloning, debates. This will be followed by a similar brief summary of the accurate established facts of a-sexual human reproduction (human cloning), noting again more particular terms that are now being manipulated within the human cloning debates. We are then in a much better position to evaluate some current legislative attempts to ban human cloning and to do something about it.

One note before I begin, however. It would seem that many people do not know that, unlike some other fields, in the field of human embryology these objective scientific facts are ultimately determined by the International Nomina Embryologica Committee8, consisting of over 20 of the best and brightest human embryologist from around the world. After reviewing the latest research studies in human embryology, their deliberations are published in the Nomina Embryologica, part of the larger Nomina Anatomica, and are professionally required to be used, along with The Carnegie Stages of Early Human Development, by all human embryologists in their own work. The human embryology that I am presenting here is quoted directly from human embryology textbooks using scientific facts determined to be current and accurate by the International Nomina Embryologica Committee. It is not my "opinion", nor even that of the authors of these textbooks.

A. When does a Human Being Begin to Exist?9

The most devastating scientific myth in both the abortion and in the human cloning debates concerns the question, "When does a human being begin to exist". Proponents of both abortion and of human cloning want you to think that a human being does not begin immediately at fertilization or at cloning. Indeed, they want you to think that the claim that a human being begins to exist immediately at fertilization and at cloning is just a religious "belief" or a personal opinion -- and after all, in this democratic, pluralistic, multicultural society one person's or groups "beliefs" or "opinions" may not be imposed on the rest of society.

Now, if you want to "believe" that the immediate product of fertilization or of cloning is a human being, then please feel free to do so. But it is also an objective scientific fact that the immediate product of both fertilization and cloning is a new living innocent human being. And it seems to me that those objective scientific facts should be the starting point for any discussions, debates, or legislation on these issues. Otherwise, as one wise old Doctor of the Church often warned, "A small error in the beginning leads to a multitude of errors at the end."10 Indeed, as we shall see, it is the starting point for the Church's own teachings on human cloning.

B. Human Sexual Reproduction -- fertilization ("zipping up")

1. Gametogenesis

There are two basic categories of cells in the human organism: somatic ("body") cells, and germ line ("sex") cells.11 During very early human embryonic development, primitive germ line cells are initially totipotent (and thus they can be cloned by "twinning"),12 and they are diploid,13 i.e., they each have "46" chromosomes (and thus they can be cloned by nuclear transfer). So before fertilization can take place, the number of chromosomes in each germ line cell must be cut in half through the process known as gametogenesis -- which can ultimately take decades to accomplish. The final effect of gametogenesis is the production of haploid "sex gametes", the sperm and the oocyte ("egg"), which have only "23" chromosomes in each cell. Once gametogenesis has taken place, then fertilization is at least scientifically possible. During the process of fertilization, the sperm and the oocyte fuse, and each ceases to exist as such. Rather, a new single-cell human being is produced.


  1. Somatic cells vs. germ line cells: "There are only diploid somatic cells" (thus opening the door for them to be cloned by "twinning" or by nuclear transfer);

  2. Totipotent vs. pluripotent: "Primitive germ line cells are pluripotent" (thus because they are really totipotent, this opens the door for them to be cloned by "twinning");

  3. Haploid vs. diploid: "Oocytes used in cloning or parthenogenesis are haploid" (thus because they are really diploid, this opens the door for them to be cloned by nuclear transfer).

2. Fertilization

Now that we have looked at the formation of the mature haploid sex gametes, the next important process to consider is fertilization. We have known empirically for over a hundred years14 that fertilization is the beginning of many things: the human embryo, the human being, the human organism, the human individual, the genetic sex of the embryo, the "embryonic period", and normal pregnancy [which begins at fertilization in the fallopian tube (or ovaduct) of the mother, not at implantation in her womb]. All of these facts are manipulated in both the abortion and in the human cloning debates. But read the objective scientific facts -- in concert with the international nomenclature for human embryology -- for yourself:

This new single-cell human being immediately produces specifically human proteins and enzymes15 (not carrot or frog enzymes and proteins), and genetically directs his/her own growth and development. (In fact, this genetic growth and development has been proven not to be directed by the mother, but rather by the embryo.)16 The human embryo begins to divide and grows bigger and bigger, developing through several stages as an embryo over an 8-week period. Several of these developmental stages of the growing embryo are given special names, e.g., a morula (about 4 days), a free blastocyst (about 4-5 days), an implanting blastocyst (about 5-7 days), a bilaminar (two layer) embryo (during the second week), and a trilaminar (3 layer) embryo (during the third week). But it is the very same human embryo who is progressing throughout all of these various stages of growth and development.17

3. The myth of the "pre-embryo" and its substitutes

There has probably been no greater manipulation of scientific terms over the last 30 years, nor one that has done more violence to human dignity, than the creation and propagation of the scientifically false term "pre-embryo".18 The purpose of the term is to make you think that there is really no human being or human embryo there yet; in fact, it might mean that there is really no "person" there yet. Therefore, this "pre-embryo" has a "reduced moral status" -- which justifies the use and destruction of these early human embryos for any purpose.

However, we know empirically that there is no such thing as a "pre-embryo".19 The term is admittedly arbitrary, a complete scientific myth, pure propaganda created for political purposes only, and usually grounded in several other "scientific" myths, e.g., that 'twinning can't take place after 14-days". But twinning can take place after 14-days!20 Indeed, the always dubious and arbitrary terms "pre-embryo" and "individualization" have recently been specifically and formally rejected as scientifically ill-defined, inaccurate, unjustified, equivocal, and politically motivated by the International Nomina Embryologica Committee:

O'Rahilly and Muller, 2001: "The term 'pre-embryo' is not used here for the following reasons: (1) it is ill-defined because it is said to end with the appearance of the primitive streak or to include neurulation; (2) it is inaccurate because purely embryonic cells can already be distinguished after a few days, as can also the embryonic (not pre-embryonic!) disc; (3) it is unjustified because the accepted meaning of the word embryo includes all of the first 8 weeks; (4) it is equivocal because it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed at only some considerable time after fertilization; and (5) it was introduced in 1986 'largely for public policy reasons' (Biggers)." ... Just as postnatal age begins at birth, prenatal age begins at fertilization." (p. 88) ... "Undesirable terms in Human Embryology": "Pre-embryo"; ill-defined and inaccurate; use "embryo". ( p. 12)

Especially because the term "pre-embryo" has now been internationally scientifically discredited, a whole series of what I would call "pre-embryo substitutes" have flooded the market place -- all of them having the same goal of reducing the "moral status" of these early vulnerable living human beings. Such an example is used typically by Michael Kinsley21 in several of his promotions for human embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. Kinsley drags up the old long-discredited scientific myth of the "biogenetic law" which essentially claims that the early developing human embryo and human fetus is not really a human being yet, but rather just an "embryo-like thing" that first has to "relive" the historical evolution of all of the species that preceded the emergence of the human species before it evolves (in utero!) into a member of the human species. Here the embryo is rather like what some theologians refer to as "a-seed-on-the-way", "a-being-on-the-way", indeed, "a human-being-on-the-way". That is, the human being isn't there yet! But empirically we know that the human being is already there immediately at fertilization or at cloning.

If you think about it, the "biogenetics law" is just another kind of "pre-embryo substitute" -- until the evolution in utero of the human species, "whatever" is there has a "reduced moral status". But like the term "pre-embryo", the old "biogenetic law" too has been long refuted and discarded by science:

(O'Rahilly and Muller 2001): Recapitulation, the So-Called Biogenetic Law. The theory that successive stages of individual development (ontogeny) correspond with ("recapitulate") successive adult ancestors in the line of evolutionary descent (phylogeny) became popular in the nineteenth century as the so-called biogenetic law. This theory of recapitulation, however, has had a "regrettable influence on the progress of embryology" (G. de Beer). ... According to the "laws" of von Baer, general characters (e.g., brain, notochord) appear in development earlier than special characters (e.g., limbs, hair). Furthermore, during its development an animal departs more and more from the form of other animals. Indeed, the early stages in the development of an animal are not like the adult stages of other forms but resemble only the early stages of those animals. The pharyngeal clefts of vertebrate embryos, for example, are neither gills nor slits. Although a fish elaborates this region into gill slits, in reptiles, birds, and mammals it is converted into such structures as the tonsils and the thymus. (p. 16)

An easy thing to remember is that almost all of these false scientific claims, such as the immediate product of fertilization is "just a bunch of stem cells", "just a blob of the mothers tissues", "just an embryo-like thing", "just a thing evolving into a human being", etc., are really nothing more than "pre-embryo substitutes", and are used for precisely the same purpose: to "scientifically" devalue the moral status of these early human beings so that they can "justifiably" be used one way or another by other human beings.


  1. Fertilization vs. implantation: "The human embryo, human being, human individual, and the human organism does not begin to exist until implantation. Until implantation (or sometimes 14-days) there is only "a bunch of stem cells", just "a blob of the mother's tissues", just "a 'pre-embryo', just a "pre-embryo-like 'thing'", or just an "embryo still recapitulating the evolution of the species".
    • (a) this leaves the door open for the use of genetic pre-selection, the use of abortifacients, and early abortions;
    • (b) it also leaves the door open for early human embryos to be used in destructive experimental research, as well as in both "therapeutic" and "reproductive" cloning using all cloning techniques, etc.
  2. "Twinning can't take place after 14-days" (thus rendering the embryo before 14-days a "non-person" with a "reduced moral status");
  3. Totipotent vs. pluripotent: "The cells (blastomeres) of the early embryo are pluripotent, not totipotent" (thus leaving the door open for the cloning of new embryos by the "twinning" of these totipotent cells for both "therapeutic" and "reproductive" purposes);
  4. Totipotent vs. pluripotent: "The cells of the inner cell mass of the early blastocyst are pluripotent", not totipotent (thus leaving the door open for the cloning of new embryos by the "twinning" of these totipotent cells" for both "therapeutic" and "reproductive" purposes).

III. Manipulating Scientific Facts of Human Embryology in Human Asexual Reproduction

A. Human Asexual Reproduction -- cloning ("zipping down")

Human beings can also be reproduced a-sexually, without the use of sperm or oocytes -- as we know empirically happens in human cloning by means of nuclear transfer.

There are two biological processes that can help people understand what happens during human cloning: methylation, and regulation:

1. Methylation:22

Briefly, following sexual reproduction the early human embryo grows and develops by means of methylating and demethylating the DNA in each of the embryo's or fetus's cells. That is, the DNA in each cell is "allowed to speak", or is "silenced", by adding or removing these methylation bars -- depending on what products the embryo needs to grow and develop. These products then "cascade"23 throughout growth and development. The more specialized, or differentiated, a cell, the more methylated its DNA becomes. I will refer to this process during growth and development following sexual human reproduction as a sort of "zipping up" -- the "programming" of the DNA of a cell. By adulthood, the DNA in many of the cells of the human being has been almost completely "silenced" by the insertion of methylation bars -- such as in human skin cells.

In a-sexual reproduction or cloning,24 many of these processes operate in reverse. For example, in using the somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning technique, one begins with a highly specialized or differentiated cell -- such as a skin cell -- in which some or even most of the DNA in that cell has been "silenced" (i.e., the methylation bars on that DNA are incrementally removed), eventually resulting in a new, single-cell zygote, an organism, a single-cell embryo. That is, you begin with just a "cell", but end up with an "organism", an embryo! This is what I will call the "zipping down" -- or the de-programming -- of the DNA in a cell, and roughly what happened with the production of Dolly the sheep. Quoting Strachan and Read:

Nuclear transfer technology was first employed in embryo cloning, in which the donor cell is derived from an early embryo, and has been long established in the case of amphibians. ... Wilmut et al (1997) reported successful cloning of an adult sheep ["Dolly"]. For the first time, an adult nucleus had been reprogrammed to become totipotent once more, just like the genetic material in the fertilized oocyte from which the donor cell had ultimately developed. ... Successful cloning of adult animals has forced us to accept that genome modifications once considered irreversible can be reversed and that the genomes of adult cells can be reprogrammed by factors in the oocyte to make them totipotent once again.25

That is, any differentiated diploid cell -- a cell who's DNA has been "zipped up" -- can have its nuclear DNA "zipped down" during the process of cloning -- reverting that cell back to a totipotent zygote -- a new cloned single-cell embryo. Similarly, the immediate product of human a-sexual reproduction (cloning) is a new human embryo, a new totipotent single-cell human zygote -- just as is the immediate product of human sexual reproduction (fertilization). There is no doubt that normal embryos resulting from such a cloning process would be new cloned human beings. Even the proponents of human cloning admit this.26 Expressing disbelief that some deny that human cloning produces an embryo, Van Blerkom, human embryologist at the University of Colorado quipped: "If it's not an embryo, what is it?", and added that researchers' efforts to avoid the word "embryo" in this context are "self-serving."27

It is important to note, however, that in cloning by means of nuclear transfer, the cloned human embryo reproduced would not be "virtually genetically identical to the donor cell". That is, the cloned human embryo would have a different genome 28 due to the presence in the embryo of foreign mitochondrial DNA, and the lack of the mitochondrial DNA from the donor cell:

Strachan and Read (1999): Animal clones occur naturally as a result of sexual reproduction. For example, genetically identical twins are clones who happened to have received exactly the same set of genetic instructions from two donor individuals, a mother and a father. A form of animal cloning can also occur as a result of artificial manipulation to bring about a type of asexual reproduction. The genetic manipulation in this case uses nuclear transfer technology: a nucleus is removed from a donor cell then transplanted into an oocyte whose own nucleus has previously been removed. The resulting 'renucleated' oocyte can give rise to an individual who will carry the nuclear genome of only one donor individual, unlike genetically identical twins. The individual providing the donor nucleus and the individual that develops from the 'renucleated' oocyte are usually described as "clones", but it should be noted that they share only the same nuclear DNA; they do not share the same mitochondrial DNA, unlike genetically identical twins. (pp. 508-509)

This objective scientific fact, as we will see, has serious consequences in evaluating many of the current human cloning "bans".

2. Regulation: 29

In addition to cloning by means of nuclear transfer, one may also clone by means of "twinning", e.g., as we know happens in natural monozygotic twinning 30 (a common, and the most exact form of, cloning31). Understanding the natural biological process of regulation can help us understand better what is taking place during human twinning.

Regulation is operative in both "zipping up" and "zipping down". In "zipping up", as in sexual reproduction (fertilization), regulation concerns various processes of differentiation; but it also becomes involved when an injury has occurred to the organism. Here, regulation is the ability of an embryo or an organ primordium to "heal" a normal structure if parts have been removed or added.32 In "zipping down", as in a-sexual reproduction such as twinning, regulation could possibly revert separated totipotent embryonic cells back to new living human embryos, i.e., new living human beings. Indeed, this is what happens with human monozygotic twinning in vivo.33

Of course the question always arises, when do each of the twins begin to exist as individuals? Well, please consider twinning from the standpoint of regulation. A normal human embryo is produced sexually via fertilization (in vivo or in vitro). Scientifically we know that this embryo produced at fertilization has already been determined to be an individual -- both "genetically" and "developmentally". He or she is a new human being. The embryo grows developmentally in total continuity with itself, and is composed initially of totipotent cells. If these totipotent cells of the embryo are damaged, the embryo could die, or regulation could set in to "heal" the embryo and restore it to wholeness. On the other hand, if these totipotent cells are actually separated from the whole embryo, then these separated cells too could just die, or regulation could possibly set in and revert these totipotent cells to new human embryos.

So the first twin is the original human embryo produced sexually and begins to exist as an individual at fertilization. The second twin is the new human embryo produced a-sexually and begins to exist as an individual when regulation is completed. Thus there is not only a "genetic" continuum involved between twins, but also a "developmental" continuum, from fertilization on.

The same considerations can be applied to questions about the fusion of two early human embryos to form a single chimera from the standpoint of regulation.34 If two human embryos fuse together to make one organism, that organism is not a human being. It would have 92 chromosomes -- whatever kind of animal that makes it! Both original embryos have died. If this chimeric organism undergoes regulation, ejects all excess chromosomes, and reduces the number and proper mixture (male and female) of chromosomes to "46", then it could theoretically result in the formation of a new human embryo. But that embryo would not be the same individual as either of the original embryos that fused. However, assuming that this process would even be possible in humans, there would still be both a "genetic" and a "developmental" continuum in this new human chimera from fertilization on.

3. Many other kinds of human cloning techniques

Also, there are many different kinds of human cloning techniques possible,35 e.g., twinning (blastomere separation and blastocyst splitting)36 -- a cloning technique highly promoted these days by IVF clinics for their patients.37 Needless to say, these same clinics could also perform twinning for the purpose of providing an unlimited supply of new human embryos for research purposes only. One can also clone human beings by using other cloning techniques, e.g., somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT),38 germ line cell nuclear transfer (GLCNT),39 pronuclei transfer,40 "artificially constructed" sperm, oocytes and embryos,41 etc.

Next Page: 4. "Therapeutic" and "reproductive" human cloning
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