This article appears in the August 2000 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

Return to August 2000 CMQ

Statement on cloning for a press conference in London

9th May 2000

Peter Liese

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to participate in this meeting in the House of Lords today. Before I get to the actual subject, I would like to say something about myself. I am a doctor by profession, and in the early l990s I scientifically worked at the Institute for human genetics of the University of Bonn: After some time in a paediatric department of a hospital I was elected to the European Parliament in 1994. 1 am chairman of the Working Group on Bioethics of the EPP_ED group (Christian Democrats and Conservatives), the biggest group in the European Parliament. Since my election in 1994 I have participated in all important resolutions and legislative decisions on biotechnology, especially on cloning.

I have been invited in order to present to you the position of the European Parliament regarding the cloning of human beings. To make it clear: the European Parliament unambiguously rejects the cloning of human beings. We do not accept the distinction between reproductive and therapeutic cloning which is discussed very often. We do not think that it is acceptable to produce human embryos by cloning and that the problem only begins with the implantation of these cloned embryos in the uterus. In the last years, these positions have repeatedly been clarified in a very precise manner. In the resolution which had been voted in 1997, after the presentation of the cloned sheep Dolly, it is said in Recital B:

"in the clear conviction that the cloning of human beings, whether experimentally, in the context of fertility treatment, preimplantation diagnosis, tissue transplantation or for any other purpose what_soever, cannot under any circumstances be justified or tolerated by any society, because it is a serious violation of fundamental human rights and is contrary to the principle of equality of human beings, as it permits a eugenic and racist selection of the human race, it offends against human dignity and it requires experimentation on humans."

Another resolution from 1998 also contains an unambiguous rejection of cloning. In Recital B it is said:

"whereas human cloning is defined as the creation of human embryos having the same genetic make up as another human being, dead or alive, at any stage of its development from the moment of fertilization, without any possible distinction as regards the method used;"

And in article 3:

"Calls on each Member state to enact binding legislation prohibiting all research on human cloning within its territory and providing for criminal sanctions for any breach;"

The European Parliament underlined this position not only in resolutions, but also in legislative texts. In its position on the 5th research framework programme, the European Parliament demands the following:

"No research activity which modifies the human genetic heritage by manipulation of germ cells or manipulation at another stage in embryonic development, which modification might become part of the genetic heritage, will take place under the present framework programme. In the same way, no activity is planned in the area of human cloning, i.e. the production of human embryos with the same genetic information as another human being or a deceased person. In the light of the differing approaches in the European Union to the ethical problems connected with these technologies, no research will be conducted which results in the destruction of human embryos."

Very important is the directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions from 1998:

Recital 41: "Whereas a process for cloning human beings may be defined as any process, including techniques of embryo splitting, designed to create a human being with the same nuclear genetic information as another living or deceased human being:"

Article 6 (1): "Inventions shall be considered unpatentable where their commercial exploitation would be contrary to public order or morality: however, exploitation shall not be deemed to be so contrary merely because it is prohibited by law or regulation.

(2): On the basis of paragraph 1, the following, in particular, shall be considered unpatentable:

a) process for cloning human beings
b) processes for modifying the germ line genetic identity of human beings
c) uses of human embryos for industrial or commercial purposes"

It is absolutely clear that, for the European Parliament, the problem of cloning does not begin with the birth of a cloned baby. The directly elected representation of the 15 Member states of the European Union also unambiguously rejects the cloning of human embryos. The amendments on this topic came mostly from the EPP_ED group and have been supported by MEPs from all Member states. What were the reasons for such a clear position?

  1. At the moment, in which a human embryo is created by cloning, the technique does not differ between the so_called therapeutic and reproductive cloning. In each case, a human embryo is produced which has genetic information identical with that of another human being. The only difference is that, in the so_called reproductive cloning, the embryo is implanted in the uterus with the purpose of bringing a child into the world. The technique of implantation in the human uterus has however already been practised for many years. That is the reason why the support from public funds or a patent for a technique for cloning human embryos would also open the door to the birth of a cloned baby.

  2. The cloning of human embryos would be like the bursting of a dam. in the beginning there may only be used embryos a very early stage, For example in the first two weeks, which could be destroyed afterwards. But once human embryos are cloned and used for the breeding of organs, there would immediately he attempts to go further. Already today researchers think about letting embryos grow in artificial uteri in order to produce organs. There are other ideas to suppress the development of the brain by using neurotoxic substances in order to raise human beings without brains, but with organs that could be used. You will surely agree that this is a horror scenario.

  3. It is the opinion of those who introduced the resolutions and amendments in the European Parliament that, human life and the necessity of its protection begin with the fusion of the ovum and the spermatozoon. Any other border line is arbitrary.

The position of the European Parliament against cloning of human beings is not directed against cloning of body cells for medical purposes. If a skin cell is brought to proliferation and if it therefore could help patients severely burned, or if a liver cell could create an organ similar to a liver or even a new liver, this is certainly not reprehensible.

More difficult is the use of embryo stem cells for the breeding of organs or for similar medical purposes. There is still no official position of the European Parliament. It is my impression that we should be very careful in this case, because this includes the question where these embryo stem cells come from. They come from embryos that may have been bred for scientific reasons and subsequently destroyed. In the discussion on biotechnology and reproductive medicine, one can often hear the argument of economic development and jobs. It is of course true that biotechnology has a big potential to create jobs and economic growth. But economic growth must not be the aim at any price. I admire Great Britain and its government for fixing ethically motivated borders in other areas, even if this could possibly reduce economic opportunities. Two examples are the commitments of Great Britain for the protection of animals and against the exportation of arms.

Moreover, it is very important to point out that the development of biotechnology in Europe does certainly not depend on whether we permit the so_called therapeutic cloning or not. The biggest possibilities of growth can be found in other areas. Already today a lot of jobs have been created in the area of gene and bio_technology, although cloning of human beings is not practised in Europe up to now.

I do not belong to those who always consider Germany as a model. In Germany, we also make a lot of mistakes. But let me make a comment on embryo protection. In the European Union, Germany certainly has the strongest rules for embryo protection in research. The embryo protection law dating from 1990 forbids not only the cloning of human embryos and germ line intervention, but also any research on embryos which destroys the embryo. Although this law has not been relaxed in the last years, we have succeeded in achieving the top position in Europe regarding the number of biotechnology firms which settled down in Germany (after years of Great Britain lying ahead us). This fact has nothing to do with the question of how to deal with human embryos, but a lot with the promotion of enterprises and regulations in other areas. In the past, Germany has made some mistakes in this area, but, after correcting these mistakes, new jobs were created. This example shows that it is not necessary to establish a link between economic growth and embryos. Anyway, in Europe we should not be competitors in tearing down ethically motivated borders, but in solving problems under consideration of human dignity and the protection of human life.

Dr. Peter Liese, is a German MEP

Return to CMQ Aug 2000