Moral faultlines of scientific progress

New medical treatments and genetic enhancement opportunities have triggered moral questions about eating genetically modified foods and the acceptability of stem cell research. Australian Catholics magazine assesses the key moral faultlines.

Genetic Engineering

When we talk about genetic engineering, there are four categories to consider. The first is somatic cell genetic engineering. Perhaps a person is missing the gene to produce insulin, and they need three injections of insulin a day. Somatic cell genetic engineering aims to give them the missing gene so that insulin can be made naturally by their pancreas. The second form is germ-line genetic engineering. Here, an early embryo that may be susceptible to a particular disease would undergo genetic engineering. Not only would the embryo be made immune to the disease, so too would its future offspring.


Cloning is proposed for two purposes. The first is reproductive cloning, which would be used to create a duplicate human being. The second is so-called ‘therapeutic’ cloning, which aims to provide medical therapy. The Catholic Church opposes both forms of cloning. Firstly, reproductive cloning threatens the dignity of the human person, and may take away their freedom to choose their own path. The clone of a famous footballer, for example, would be constantly compared to the original, making it difficult for the clone to exercise any form of individuality. ‘Therapeutic’ cloning or Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) is even more serious. SCNT aims to make a cloned embryo, which would then be destroyed for its stem cells.

The plan is that these stem cells could then be used to provide medical therapy for the original person. This idea thus requires embryos to be created with the purpose of destroying them. The Church is against therapeutic cloning as it denies an embryo the right to life. It suggests that it is okay to kill someone at an early stage of their life.

FULL STORY Defining the boundaries (Australian Catholics)

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