By United Methodist News Service

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - An announcement that scientists have created human embryos through cloning stands "in stark opposition" to The United Methodist Church's position, said an executive with the denomination's social action agency.

"The United Methodist Church position on this issue is very clear," said Linda Bales, director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. "Our opposition to such developments is based on a belief that God is the creator, and our identity as humans is much more than our genetic inheritance, our social environment, or the sum of the two."

Scientists at Stemagen, a biotechnology company in San Diego, announced on Jan. 18 they used skin cells of two men to create cloned embryos. It is not clear whether the embryos would have been viable if implanted into a womb, said Dr. Samuel H. Wood, chief executive of Stemagen. Wood, a fertility doctor who started the company in 2005, was one of the donors used as DNA sources.

The stated intent for the cloning is to create cells that could be used by patients suffering from various diseases, Bales said. According to news reports, the company's chief executive said that the cloning of human babies is "unethical and it's illegal, and we hope no one else does it either.

"We don't know the full ramifications of such research and the long-term consequences," Bales said. "As with any technological discovery, we are compelled to ask the hard questions applying our Christian teachings and principles. This is not easy; but yet, it's our mandate."

The 2004 United Methodist Book of Resolutions, in Paragraph 103 on human cloning, includes a definitive statement on cloning for purposes of research: "We call for a ban on therapeutic, medical, research, and commercial procedures which generate waste embryos" and "on all nations to ban human cloning and to identify appropriate government agencies to enforce the ban.

"Appropriate social and governmental bodies must monitor and guide research and developments in the field. Concern for profit and commercial advantage should be balanced by consideration for individual rights, the interest of wide constituencies, and the common good of future generations."

The United Methodist Church "welcomes" the use of genetic technology for meeting fundamental human needs for health, a safe environment and an adequate food supply, according to the Social Principles. Paragraph 162(M) on genetic technology declares, though: "We oppose the cloning of humans."

The General Board of Church and Society convened a 10-member task force in 2005 to examine issues related to genetic technology, namely genetic testing and artificial reproductive technologies.

The task force has developed a print and Web resource on these issues, to be released in March, titled "Spiritual Discernment: A Guide for Genetic and Reproductive Technology."

Information for this report was provided by the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.