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Moral Theologians Warn Against Semi-cloning

SINGAPORE, October 22, 2009--Catholic moral theologians have raised concerns after news broke that scientists here have become the first to "semi-clone" an animal by fertilizing an egg with an embryonic stem cell that mimics sperm.

The breakthrough by scientists at the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences could help treat infertility, according to an Oct. 17 press release on the university's website.

According to this and other local media reports, the scientists have successfully "semi-cloned" a Medaka fish, which they have named "Holly."

What they did was to take eggs from one fish and sperm from another. The sperm cells were then bombarded with ultraviolet rays to remove their DNA code and then used to fertilize the eggs.

Since only one set of DNA was in the eggs, their resulting division created haploid cells, which were combined with eggs of another fish to produce Holly. Unlike traditional cloning, this method resulted in the creation of an animal that is not an exact clone of its parent.

The technique now opens up the possibility of creating haploid cells from an infertile man, who would then be able pass on his DNA.

Speaking to UCA News, Dominican Father David Garcia and diocesan Father James Yeo said the semi-cloning of Holly itself does not raise any real bioethical problems as it was done on animals for the purpose of research. However they warned of ethical implications if the technique were to be used on human beings.

Father Yeo said the cloning of plants and animals have existed for some time in horticulture, agriculture and animal husbandry. So far, he said, no studies have shown that such cloning poses any risk.

"These technologies would become unethical if it could be shown that these cloned plants or animals pose a threat to human life and the environment," Father Yeo said.

It is a different matter if such techniques were to be used for human cloning, however.

Father Yeo said the Catholic Church is against the cloning of humans, whether through semi-cloning or established cloning technology, as these make a person an object of manipulation and violates human dignity.

"It could also eventually blur the line of parentage and is open to all kinds of abuses when applied in the area of eugenics," he said.

Father Yeo added that the Church condemns any technology that involves the use or destruction of human embryos, and highlighted the Church's teaching that life begins at conception and that offspring should be the fruit of conjugal love expressed in sexual union between spouses.

Father Garcia said that if the semi-cloning technique were to be "extended to humans, it would be a case of artificial reproduction ... which just like IVF (in vitro fertilization), the Church deems ethically wrong and morally illicit."

Professor Lim Pin, chairman of the Singapore Bioethics Advisory Committee, was quoted in a media report saying that semi-cloning is still a form of cloning, and the technology will come under regulation in Singapore if it is used on humans.

Archbishop John Chew, president of the National Council of Churches of Singapore, was also quoted as saying that while the research potential using animals to study diseases or treatments may be promising, there are ethical issues like the meaning of parenthood if the techniques are extended to humans. (UCAN)