Dear Catholic Exchange:
What is the Church’s doctrine on human clones? Would a clone possess a soul?
Peace in Christ! If a human could indeed be cloned, it would by definition have a soul or, at least, be “preparing for and calling for a soul” (see quotation below taken from the Declaration on Procured Abortion). To ask whether a human clone has a soul is to ask in some sense if the clone is a human being. A human person, by definition, is a composite of body and soul (Catechism, no. 362). And while it is true that a human soul can exist apart from the body at death, anticipating the Resurrection, the soul is the “innermost aspect of man” (Catechism, no. 363).
The Church has not made any official pronouncements regarding whether a human clone has a soul. However, the assumption of the Church is that human life is at stake with regard to cloning. The Church has, therefore, unequivocally condemned human cloning as a violation of human dignity.
For example, when Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT) claimed to have cloned an embryo, the Vatican Press Office released a communiqué stating that, regardless of the stated intent of ACT not to clone a person, a human embryo is indeed a human life and not just a collection of cells. Further, although the means used to bring the human being into existence is inherently “inhuman,” the embryo is still “a life that preserves, in any case, its dignity just as that of every human life brought into existence.”
In an address to an organ transplant conference in Italy on August 29, 2000, Pope John Paul II remarked on experiments geared at replacing transplantation: “In any event, methods that fail to respect the dignity and value of the person must always be avoided. I am thinking in particular of attempts at human cloning with a view to obtaining organs for transplants” (emphasis original).
The Church maintains that every human life possesses an inviolable dignity no matter how that person comes into existence. Each person has a right to come into existence through a loving marital act, but if a person comes into existence through rape, in vitro fertilization, or even by cloning, the person truly possesses dignity as a human person.
The Church confesses that the soul is created directly by God and is not “produced” by the parents (Catechism, no. 366). However, the question of the exact moment the soul is created is irrelevant. The fact is that a human life exists and, at any stage of development, the right to life must be respected absolutely. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated in the Declaration on Procured Abortion that at the moment “the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor of the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and discussions about the moment of animation have no bearing on it” (nos. 12-13; emphasis added). The footnote to this last sentence is significant, so we include it here in full:
This declaration expressly leaves aside the question of the moment when the spiritual soul is infused. There is not a unanimous tradition on this point and authors are as yet in disagreement. For some it dates from the first instant; for others it could not at least precede nidation. It is not within the competence of science to decide between these views, because the existence of an immortal soul is not a question in its field. It is a philosophical problem from which our moral affirmation remains independent for two reasons: (1) supposing a belated animation, there is still nothing less than a human life, preparing for and calling for a soul in which the nature received from parents is completed, (2) on the other hand, it suffices that this presence of the soul be probable (and one can never prove the contrary) in order that the taking of life involve accepting the risk of killing a man, not only waiting for, but already in possession of his soul.
The moment that a soul is infused is irrelevant to the moral question because all human life from the moment of existence possesses an inviolable dignity that must be respected. The Church, while making no official pronouncements, assumes in her statements on cloning that a cloned embryo is a human life. Human cloning, therefore, is a grave moral offense that can never be condoned.
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