Robert W. Evans, Ph.D., Ph.D.
Veritas Ministries International
Veritas Institute for the Study of Bioethics and Public Values, USA
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
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.
Benefits of Cloning
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.”
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
to learn more?
Please contact us at:
Institute for the Study of Bioethics and Public Values
Bay, CA 95746
You may order the
following resources from Veritas online at
“Begotten or Made? The
Christian Stake in Human Cloning.” Audio
Cassette Tape#: HC002R
“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).
Copyright © 2001 Veritas Ministries International.
All rights reserved.
Time magazine, February 19, 2001, page 55.
Wired magazine, March 1998, page 146.