Veritas


Human Cloning:

A Positional Statement

Robert W. Evans, Ph.D., Ph.D.

President, Veritas Ministries International

Director, Veritas Institute for the Study of Bioethics and Public Values, USA

www.veritasministries.com   www.veritasinstitute.com

Introduction

Few contemporary issues have garnered the attention of human cloning.  The genesis of this activity may well trace back to J. B. Gurdon of the University of Cambridge who conducted some of the earliest rudimentary experiments in cloning with frogs back in 1966.  The procedures were not very successful, and Dr. Gurdon was able only to bring these frogs up to the tadpole stage of development.

However, the biotechnological landscape would forever be changed when Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland announced in February, 1997 that he and his colleagues had successfully cloned a sheep.  Then in January of 1998, researchers claim that he had cloned two calves in Texas.  Over the past few years, reports of cloned mice, cattle, horses, and other animals have occupied a prominent place in the news.  The stakes were raised when in 1998, Richard Seed, Ph.D. announced that it was his intent to clone the first human being by the end of 1998 and to then clone upwards of 500 people every year thereafter.  Though Dr. Seed was unsuccessful in his attempts at cloning a human being, there have been other reports emerging from various corners of the world indicating that a human being has been successfully cloned.  Researchers in South Korea announced earlier in 2001 that they had successfully cloned a human embryo, and a joint venture between researchers in the United States and Italy continue to press forward with their attempts to clone a human being within the next eighteen months.

What is human cloning?  Why pursue the cloning of human life?  What are the potential benefits?  What are the potential risks involved in the pursuit of human cloning?  How is one to offer a Christian response to this activity?  In this article, I will seek to address these various questions, albeit in brief compass.

What is Cloning?

Cloning is the procedure that is employed to duplicate a living creature.  This is accomplished by first taking an unfertilized egg cell from a fertile female and removing the DNA cell nucleus from this egg.  Then, a second cell is removed from a very young embryo, a developing fetus, or an adult animal, and the DNA cell nucleus is removed from this second cell as well.  The latter DNA cell nucleus is then introduced into the first unfertilized egg and a small electrical current is run through this egg, thereby beginning cell duplication.  This fertilized egg is then placed into an environment that is conducive for an initial period of incubation.  Once the fertilized egg has reached the embryonic stage of development, the embryo is placed into the uterus of a suitable recipient and is allowed to develop to term.  If all goes as planned, this procedure may result in an offspring that is essentially genetically identical to the original creature from which the unfertilized cell was obtained. 

The Potential Benefits of Cloning

Cloning animals may result in the following potential benefits: an improved quality of meat, enhanced nutrients in milk, a more luxurious coat of fur for clothing, the possibility of creating new drugs through genetic manipulation, the production of animal organs suitable for human transplantation, and the ability to clone lost pets, among others.  However, part of the cloning debate is whether or not we ought to genetically duplicate human beings.

Advocates for human cloning suggests that such a pursuit will result in cures for cancer, provide infertile couples with children, and allow grieving parents to replace a lost child through human cloning.  More grandiose has been the suggestion that the perfection of human cloning techniques will allow us to finely define humanity.  In a Time magazine article dated February 19, 2001, the author suggested that cloning will provide us with “the meaning of what it means to be human.” [i]

The Potential Risks of Cloning

One of the potential risks involved in cloning a human being is the high rate of experimental casualties that are involved in the process.  Indeed, one needs to keep in mind that the rate of successfully cloning a fertilized egg is exceedingly low.  For example, in cloning Dolly, researchers began with 277 fertilized eggs from which only 29 reached that stage in development necessary (i.e., the blastocyst or morala stage) to then be implanted into the uteri of 13 sheep.  From this, only one sheep was born alive.  The estimated cost involved in cloning Dolly was approximately $50,000; a small sum compared to the anticipated expense involved in cloning a human being.  Furthermore, not only is the success rate in cloning a living creature exceedingly low, but the potential for malformations and birth defects is exceedingly high.  Researchers are presently attempting to improve upon these statistics.

Yet another source of potential risk lies in the unforeseen genetic effects involved in the process of cloning a creature.  Indeed the pursuit of human cloning could increase genetic diseases in certain populations.  For example, it needs to be borne in mind that clones of one person are actually half brothers and half sisters of one another.  Without careful tracking of regulations concerning marriage, cloning could lead to incestuous relationships.  In turn, these incestuous relationships could result in an increase of genetic disorders that are dependent upon recessive genes.  These genetic disorders would then be expressed in the offspring of those that are incestuously related to one another and then enter into the general human gene pool.

It is also the case that the cloning experiments involve very delicate procedures, and that there is a chance of splicing together DNA or having spontaneous mutations occur during the process of cloning that could result in hideous abnormalities.  If these mistakes were to remain undetected in the genetic code, a sort of biological ticking time bomb might well manifest itself in offspring many years later.

Yet another source of potential risk lies the possible reduction in bio-diversity.  There is a need to maintain of the human species a sufficient level of genetic diversity in order to ensure our ongoing survival and heal.  For example, should a sizable number of the population be cloned from the DNA of only a very few individuals, a disease that might normally kill off only a small percentage of a heterogeneous population might entirely eliminate the homogeneously cloned population.  Furthermore, in a society where a considerable number of the population were cloned from the DNA of only a few individuals, it would become increasingly difficult for each subsequent generation to find genetically safe partners due to the same reason for which close relatives are discouraged from marrying and mating with one another.

Yet another potential risk lies in the possibility of social control being exercised by the very few.  The renegade research protocols of recent years has brought attention to the fact that those in the general population have very little, if any, control over the emerging bio-social gatekeepers.  Indeed, the future is held in the hands of those who understand and control these levers of power.  Furthermore, they control these levers of power with only the slightest degree of accountability to the public at large.  Recently developments have demonstrated that biotechnological advancements are not curtailed by the expressed moral concerns of the majority.  Indeed, though science, per se, may be said to be valueless, clearly scientist are not.  In the end, it is the desires, values, and ethics of those that employ this new technology that will direct what is done and for what reasons. 

Yet another risk lies in the reduction of humanity to commodities.   Much of what passes for medical and biotechnological advancement today is performed on the basis of a utilitarian ethic that would suggest that every advancement must produce the greatest good for the greatest number of persons.  However, such ideology is fostered by the implicit belief that a cloned person is a useful object.  This is a very functionalist approach that is oriented toward the evaluation of an individual on the basis of its useful capacity.  Clearly this is a perspective that is antithetical to the competing ideology of humanism.  Humanism would celebrate the equal value, rights, and protections of all persons.  However, when it comes to human cloning, part of the reason to pursue such technology is for the purpose of creating “organ warehouses.”  We might well ask ourselves how far our culture would have to slide down the slippery slope before cloned persons would simply become a new class of social slave.  The pursuit of human cloning may not only yield a refined definition of humanness, but of humanness as well, for it raises the very fundamental question of whether human life may be viewed fundamentally as a gift, or as a human fabrication.

It is also the case that a host of legal concerns that readily attached themselves to the issue of human cloning.  Chief among these is the question of whether or not cloned creatures are actually human, and whether they possess the rights, privileges, and protections as persons, or if they are to be somehow as subhuman without such rights, privileges, and protections.  And would the clone’s rights supersede those of the children born to the couple by means of natural reproduction in the case divorce?  Surely those who are “produced” by the couple could argue that their rights supersede those of the children born naturally to the couple on the basis that they were truly intended.  Furthermore, would  the husband be held legally liable to pay child support to the clone of his wife?  And would clones have to pay royalties to their genetic donors?

Finally, there are a host of social concerns that also readily attach themselves to the pursuit of human cloning.  Single individuals, unmarried couples, and homosexuals having children through assisted reproductive technologies made available through human cloning will likely grow in both popularity and acceptability in our society.  The public already becomes downright giddy when yet another Hollywood celebrity issues a statement through a publicist announcing that she is expecting a child, but refusing to disclose the identify of the “father” (a term used loosely today to reference, not the role that a man plays in a child’s life, but merely its production).  Already, some gay-rights advocates are arguing that such sexual preferences prove to have a biological basis, and should genetic screening measures lead to the termination of identified “gay embryos” that homosexuals would have a moral obligation to produce gay children through human cloning.[ii]  It is also the case that cloning requires a host womb.  As such, it is likely that surrogate motherhood would likely increase in our society as well.

Toward a Christian Appraisal

In an increasingly secularized and post-modern society, the pressures to clone a human being are indeed immense.  Only time will tell whether or not Dr. Seed has provided an accurate prophesy of the future, however, he did state that “cloning is inevitable.  If I don’t do it, someone else will.  There is no way you can stop science.”[iii]  To this, the International Academy of Humanists added, “the potential benefits of cloning may be so immense that it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning.”

How is the Christian perceived in such a climate?  What does the Bible have to say about these issues?  It must be conceded that the Bible nowhere directly addresses the issue of human cloning.  The scriptures are quite clear in addressing fundamental questions that bears tremendous weight upon this discussion.  Chief among these are the following questions.  1) What does it mean to be a human being?   2) In what does our humanness consist?   3) When does human life begin?

The scriptures plainly teach that our humanness is grounded in the fact that we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28).  Though there are those who would wish to argue that the differences between us and the animals are differences of degree and not kind, this is a contention that the scriptures cannot support.  Rather, unique in the universe, is the human being, for we alone have been created in God’s image and in his likeness.

Second, our humanness consists in the very fact that God has identified us with Him in His image and likeness.  We are not the product of random fortuitous evolution, but rather an intentional and separate act of creation by the very hand of God Himself.  Our humanness lies in the fact that God made us and that he has made us in His image and likeness.

Third, a strong argument can be made to suggest that human life begins at conception.  It is noteworthy that Christ’s own human life-story began with the announcement of Mary’s conception of the Messiah  (Matthew 1:18-24; Luke 1:26-38).  Furthermore, it may well be that the reason that Christ was able to take up residency in one of Mary’s fertilized ovum is her fertilized ovum was already image-bearing in and of its own nature.  Accordingly, to genetically manipulate germ cells is not merely to tinker with lifeless tissue, but to experiment with the very image of God and man.

Conclusion

Indeed seeking cures for cancer and AIDS are worthy and noble causes.  However, such goals do not justify the defacement of the image of God in man.  And though children are to be considered an honor and a blessing, having children is neither promised in the scriptures, nor is it morally mandated.  Rather, children are considered a heritage—a gift from God (Psalm 127:3).  It seems highly odd to require that anyone (not least God) give a gift, or to specify the precise nature and quality of the gift that is to be given.  For some, remaining childless (for reasons that, perhaps, only He in His infinite wisdom understands) may be God’s will.

However, as is true with most bioethical issues, the discussions on the relative merits of these ventures begin at the wrong end of the question.  The question is not what is the potential benefit, but rather, what does it mean to be human, and what does our humanness consist of, and when does human life begin.  I would suggest that a Christian response to the prevailing currents that move us in the direction of human cloning ought to begin with these more fundamental questions.  Once clarified, it seems clear that the unbridled enthusiasm for the pursuit of human cloning would be placed in a very different perspective.

Want to learn more?

Please contact us at:

Veritas Ministries International

Veritas Institute for the Study of Bioethics and Public Values

P.O. Box 2760

Granite Bay, CA  95746

USA

Email: VeritasMinistries@compuserve.com

Tel: 530.305.1062

You may order the following resources from Veritas online at

www.veritasministries.com or www.veritasinstitute.com

Evans, R.W.  “Begotten or Made?  The Christian Stake in Human Cloning.”  Audio Cassette Tape#: HC002R

Evans, R.W.  “The Moral Status of Embryos,” in The Reproduction Revolution, John F. Kilner, Paige C. Cunningham and W. David Hager, ed., ( Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing, 2000).

________________________________________________________________________

Veritas  Copyright © 2001 Veritas Ministries International.  All rights reserved.

 
[i]  Page 48
[ii]  Time magazine, February 19, 2001, page 55.     
[iii]  Wired magazine, March 1998, page 146.

 


 

Veritas Ministries  
P.O. Box 2327  
Castro Valley, CA 94546-2327  USA
Toll free (USA & Canada):  1-877-77-TRUTH
Tel:  (510) 727-1351

 
All Site content and design copyright 1999-2012 Veritas Ministries
Website design and hosting provided by