UNESCO Committee Debates Therapeutic Human Cloning

Interview with Father Gonzalo Miranda

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PARIS, SEPT. 3, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Delegations of several countries expressed their concern over UNESCO’s plan to write a Declaration on Universal Norms of Bioethics which, among other things, might approve therapeutic cloning.

The initiative would take place before the United Nations can vote on the proposal prohibiting all types of human cloning.

The International Bioethics Committee, responsible for elaborating the declaration, held its eleventh session to review the draft of the document.

The session was attended by representatives of some of the most important religions, who expressed their position in regard to the declaration. The Catholic Church was represented by Father Gonzalo Miranda, dean of the Faculty of Bioethics of the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum of Rome.

In this interview with ZENIT, Father Miranda, a priest of the Legionaries of Christ, gives details of the debate.

Q: What was the reason for the invitation to representatives of religions?

Father Miranda: Although the document is in an advanced phase of writing, the members of the International Bioethics Committee thought it would be appropriate to hear the opinion of religions on the subject. In preceding months auditions had been held of representatives of the main international agencies, as well as of bioethics experts from around the world. Obviously someone realized that religions also have something to say, and that their position would contribute to work in the spirit of true pluralism of which UNESCO’s director general himself, Koichiro Matsuura, had reminded the committee in his address in April.

Although each one of the representatives of religions were given only ten minutes to express their position, followed by as many for questions and answers, I think the experience was positive for all those present. At the end of the following day, when the different parts of the draft of the declaration were analyzed in common, someone said to me that he had never seen UNESCO give so much relevance to religion.

In fact, there were quite a few participants who referred to the auditions of the previous day. One of them said, for example, that the majority of human beings belong to a religion and, therefore, the view of religions could not be ignored in the matter of bioethics, if there is a genuine desire to elaborate a declaration that has a universal character.

Q: What points did you present in your report?

Father Miranda: Having so little time at my disposal, I decided to insist on an aspect that I think is crucial in the present situation: the obligation not to discriminate against anyone and not to violate anyone’s human rights. The draft of the document includes in a vigorous manner the principle of respect of human dignity and the defense of human rights, but, unfortunately, we know too well that many who speak that way, calmly justify practices such as abortion, the use of human embryos for experimentation, and cloning to produce embryos from which to extract stem cells.

Therefore, I stressed that all of us human beings enjoy the same intrinsic dignity, by the mere fact of belonging to the human family, and that we Christians know that all of us are children of the same God. I said that the principle of universal equality of human beings extends to all without distinction. I quoted the well-known phrase of St. Paul: «there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman as all of you are one in Jesus Christ,» and I added «there is no longer born or unborn, we are all one in Christ.» I also stressed the question of respect due to the human being from his embryonic state, which does not depend on the religious view itself. Rather, it is the expression of the principle of the universal dignity and equality of all human beings, the very foundation of coexistence between men and nations.

Q: Did you comment on the draft of the declaration?

Father Miranda: Yes. I said that a UNESCO document (namely, of an agency of the United Nations) must not propose, approve, or endorse any practice that is contrary to the Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, especially the right to life, proclaimed in Article 3. And I reminded them that Article 2 states that the rights and liberties enunciated in the Declaration correspond «to every individual … without any distinction for reasons of race … or other condition.» Or other condition simply means this: no condition.

I also called attention to the danger that the text might approve indirectly or implicitly certain practices that go against those fundamental rights, simply by the fact of condemning some modalities of certain practices without mentioning other modalities. This would be the case, for example, if so-called «reproductive cloning» was condemned and «therapeutic cloning» was not mentioned. It might be interpreted as the tacit approval of the latter. An operation of this type, I said, would be an expression of intellectual dishonesty.

It would be more honest, in any case, to say that on this second form no common view has been attained and, consequently, the text does not pronounce itself on it.

Q: What will be the future and the character of the Declaration that UNESCO is preparing?

Father Miranda: The idea is that the declaration be ready for September-October, 2005. The truth, it seems to me, is that the declaration will hardly be able to pronounce itself on the specific problems of bioethics.

In the first place this is because the issues are many and extremely complex (when greeting the person in charge of the group doing the writing I reminded him that there is an Encyclopedia of Bioethics, of several volumes, and that it is not all together complete. He laughed, agreeing with his head).

Moreover, during the session the issue of the different existing views on many problems arose many times, sometimes positions that are irreconcilable with one another. For this very reason, the idea gained ground that perhaps it would be most appropriate if the declaration just affirmed the general principles of bioethics and some fundamental indications, and that only a list be made of the many specific problems, stating that the International Bioethics Committee would be issuing more concrete studies on them, in keeping with the spirit and orientation of the Universal Declaration. I think it would be the best solution.

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