Part Three: New Treatments which Involve the Manipulation of the Embryo

by Dr. Linda Powell, Ph.D.

In this final part of Dignitas personae, we will examine what the instruction has to say about

  • Gene Therapy,
  • Human cloning,
  • The therapeutic use of stem cells, and
  • Attempts at Hybridization


Gene Therapy

Gene therapy commonly refers to “techniques of genetic engineering applied to human beings for therapeutic purposes, that is to say, with the aim of curing genetically based diseases.”  There are two main types of therapy:  Somatic cell gene therapy and Germ line therapy.  The former seeks “to eliminate or reduce genetic defects on the level of somatic cells.”  The latter aims to “correct genetic defects present in germ line cells with the purpose of transmitting the therapeutic effects to the offspring of the individual.”

Ethically speaking, procedures used on somatic cells for strictly therapeutic purposed are in principle morally licit.  However, gene therapy does pose risks to the patient and should only proceed if the patient will not be harmed excessively or disproportionately to the gravity of the pathology for which a cure is being sought.  Informed consent must be required.

With regard to germ line cell therapy, “the risks connected to any genetic manipulation are considerable and as yet, not fully controllable,” so in the present state of the research, it is not morally permissible. 

Any interventions that would introduce alterations to the gene pool, would promote a “eugenic mentality.”  It could happen that society would be divided along certain qualities and would be an offense against justice and the fundamental truth that all human beings are equal.  Finally, altering the gene pool to create a new type of human being means that man tries to take the place of the Creator.


Human Cloning

Human cloning is intrinsically evil.  It can lead to manipulation and abuses that are gravely injurious to human dignity. (n.28)

Reproductive cloning “would impose on the resulting individual a predetermined genetic identity, subjecting him to a form of biological slavery, from which it would be difficult to free himself.”  The fact that someone would take upon himself the right to determine arbitrarily the genetic makeup of another person is a grave offense to the dignity of that person. 

It must be said that to create embryos with the intention of destroying them is gravely immoral.  We must not sacrifice a human life for therapeutic ends. 


The Therapeutic Use of Stem Cells

In n.31, the instruction explains what stem cells are with their basic characteristics.  For this ethical evaluation, it is necessary to consider the methods of obtaining them. 

Methods that do not cause harm to the subject from whom the stem cells are taken are to be considered licit.  This is generally the case when tissues are taken from: a) an adult organism; b) the blood of the umbilical cord at the time of birth; c) fetuses who have dies of natural causes.

Obtaining stem cells from a living human embryo causes the death of a human person and consequently is gravely illicit.


Attempts at Hybridization

“Such procedures represent an offense against the dignity of human beings on account of the admixture of human and animal genetic elements capable of disrupting the specific identity of man.” (n.33) 

Finally, for an excellent instruction of the use of Human “biological material” of illicit origin, I suggest you read parts n. 34 and n. 35 for yourself.  It is especially pertinent to parents who use vaccines for their children. 

This concludes our review of Dignitas personae.  We will continue to present the Catholic point of view of Personhood on this website.


To read the whole instruction: