After the news that two monkeys have reportedly been cloned in China, the chief Vatican official in charge of bioethics said scientists must “evaluate the risks” of such new technology.
Two monkeys named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were born several weeks ago, and Chinese scientists say several more will be born in the coming months.
They are genetically identical long-tailed macaques, which researchers say could be useful in trying to find cures for human diseases.
The method used to clone the monkeys is not new – it is the same one used in Scotland to clone Dolly the sheep in 1996. However, macaques are the first primates to be cloned, and would be an important step in successfully cloning human beings.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Vatican’s Academy for Life, called the news a “noteworthy” contribution to human understanding, but warned about the dangers of not considering the effects of such experiments on the ecosystem, and the need to evaluate the risks of using such knowledge in experiments with humans.
Paglia also noted that the effort to clone the monkeys had many failures before the two healthy monkeys were born, with many animals dying during the process.
The archbishop then made a veiled reference to the different attitudes towards medical ethics in China and the West, saying that places must be found to strengthen the dialogue between “different world views,” so that comparisons can be made and criteria established to ensure that technology is used “at the service of effective human development, and therefore respecting all dimensions that are proper to human life and justice in a globalized world.”
Paglia also noted the need to respect animal welfare, saying animal experimentation is only “allowed in the absence of alternative methods in acquiring knowledge and therapeutic tools.”
The archbishop admitted that even in the West, opinions differ on the ethics of experimenting on animals, particularly primates, “both out of respect for the suffering to which they are subjected, and for the economic costs.”
Paglia’s statement reflects the longstanding policy of the Academy for Life on the issue of cloning. In 1997, in response to the cloning of Dolly, the institution released a statement stating, “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.”
The Vatican has constantly condemned human cloning, for either therapeutic or reproductive purposes.