ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Vatican's bioethics chief is blasting China's cloning of primates.
Monsignor Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, blasted the announcement that two monkeys have been cloned in China.
"We must always consider the effects of our interventions on the ecosystem and weigh the risk of making mistakes in the management of new know-how which may in the future lead us to interventions on the human body," he cautioned. "Not everything that is possible is right."
News broke Wednesday that scientists in Shanghai have successfully produced two macaque monkey clones.
Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, six and eight weeks old respectively, were produced using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which involves transplanting the nucleus of a cell (which includes its DNA) into an egg that has had its original nucleus removed.
The first SCNT breakthrough came in 1996 when Scottish scientists used the method to produce Dolly the sheep, the first mammal clone.
The following year, the Pontifical Academy for Life issued a statement acknowledging "there is a place for research, including cloning in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, wherever it answers a need or provides a significant benefit for man or for other living beings, provided that the rules for protecting the animal itself and the obligation to respect the biodiversity of species are observed."
But human cloning, for whatever purpose, was — and remains — thoroughly condemned.
Over the past two decades, scientists have used SCNT to clone more than 20 other species, including dogs, rabbits, cows and pigs, but until now successful cloning of primates, the highest order of mammals, had proven elusive.
Still, the Chinese achievement came at quite a price. To produce just two monkey clones, scientists had to implant 79 cloned embryos into 21 surrogates. Six pregnancies resulted. Four macaques were born. One died from impaired body development, another from respiratory failure. Only Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua remain.
The development is stoking debate over human reproductive cloning. Though human cloning for reproduction is forbidden in many countries, many fear it's only a matter of time before that step is taken.
In Shanghai, Insitute of Neuroscience Director Muming Poo, who oversaw the primate experiment, said that though the technical barrier to human cloning is now broken, "There is no intention to apply this method to humans."
"The reason ... we broke this barrier is to produce animal models that are useful for medicine, for human health," he maintained.
But Cdl. Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian Bishops' Conference, found the justification for the experiment dubious. He declared it proof that the "will to power," the "mania of omnipotence" is magnifying.
"I wonder whether it really leads to solutions," he said. "I rather think that the result attained is only an affirmation of self."