christian thoughts about today's issues
TwitterTwitter FacebookFacebook RSSRSS

The Cloning of Human Beings: One Christian’s Perspective

A long-standing topic of science fiction, human cloning is now very close to possible – and may already have occurred.  If it has occurred, it has been well hidden from public view, and understandably so.  The ethical implications of human cloning are not insignificant.  During cloning, a female egg – not yet fertilized by male sperm – is removed from the female host.  (Women are born with about 1.5 million eggs, and over their normal life span about half a million are actually issued from the female reproductive system.  Clearly, women have them in massive surplus.  The same is true for mens’ sperm, of course – the percentage of male sperm that is actually successful in fertilizing a female egg is infinitesimal.  Again, God has provided a massive surplus.)  After the egg is withdrawn, the female “half” (the female chromosomes) are extracted from the egg, and replaced with a “whole” (or complete) set of chromosomes (either from a male or female), and returned to a female womb for gestation.

Philosophically, cloning opens up a world of speculation about the human soul – whether cloned individuals have a soul, whether they share the soul of their original “twin”, and whether they are indeed even recognized by God as individual human beings since other men basically replicated them.  It can hardly be thought of as a new life, since from a physiological perspective it is the same individual as the donor.  Yet, essentially that is what occurs in natural identical twins.  The same combination of DNA spontaneously divides, resulting in two physiologically identical but autonomous people – and I don’t believe anyone has ever seriously questioned whether each of them has a distinct soul.

Another way to examine this is to look at the possibility of using human cloning to produce replacement organs and/or appendages for amputees and individuals whose hearts, kidneys, or other organs are failing but who would otherwise go on to live many productive years.  If a soldier who lost his leg to an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan could have his leg replaced – good as new – because cloning could grow him a replacement leg in a laboratory, would there be any harm in that?  I think most of us would agree that it would be a spectacular breakthrough in modern science, and would be ecstatic that such an operation was now available to such American heroes.  Technology is not far from that point now.

Scientists could grow human organs from a combination of cloned human tissue and animal hosts.  In 2002, for example, an “ear” was grown on the back of a hairless mouse. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1949073.stm)  This was done as part of a research effort aimed at growing replacement human livers.  In this case, the “human” ear contained no human tissue – it was bovine (cow) tissue grown over an artificial screen-based trellis that dissolved over time.  However, the use of animal parts in humans has a long-standing history of success – ranging from pig valves in human hearts to biogenetically re-engineered blood products from guinea pigs used to replace clotting factors in the blood of hemophiliacs.  It requires no leap in logic to see that a human womb will not be the only way to enable cloned human tissues to mature.

But what if, in order to achieve that goal, the entire body had to be grown in the laboratory – not just the leg – and the balance of the body discarded?  Is that tantamount to abortion, or murder?  It seems clear that if the entire human can be grown in vitro, then it is a creature that could live independently, therefore qualifying as an independent human life.  Then the matter is not so clear-cut.  From my perspective, it seems to me that if scientists can grow only the leg, that’s wonderful.  If they can grow the lower half of the body, and have to discard the balance, then that is also acceptable.  But if they have to grow an entire human being – including a heart to pump blood through the new appendage and a brain to control the muscles of the heart as well as all the nerves, and so on – then we have a real moral dilemma.

One perspective is that the donor should make this decision.  It is the donor of the chromosomes who has literally contributed a portion of his or her own body as the seed material for the formation of the new appendage – or torso – or complete new body.  It is essentially his or her own (extended) body in question, and therefore his or her own property.

This sounds eerily like the argument of abortion rights advocates today, who claim that a woman should have the right to abort a baby because she is exercising her right to control over her own body.  However, there is a meaningful difference in my view, because (with the exception of rape) that controlled decision was made at the time the female engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse.  When the egg was fertilized, and the embryo was fully formed, a new and unique human being came into existence.  The decision was made, and anything that occurs after that point to terminate the pregnancy is a deliberate action to end a unique and physiologically complete human life; an action usually referred to as murder.

In this case, then, if the appendage can be developed in vitro only by growing a complete human body and discarding the balance of that body, is that a decision which can morally be made by the donor because the new body is just an extension of his or her own flesh and blood – not mingled DNA from two separate individuals to create a new and independent life through normal human intercourse?  The new body – containing a heart and a brain – is really an extension of the existing one; it is not unique in a physiological sense.  Yet it represents – at least from a human and biological perspective – a complete human being; a person.

Thus far, the Christian community has not had much to say on this matter, and even less to say that makes sense.  While the Bible does not speak directly on matter of cloning, some Christian authors like David Pratte (http://www.gospelway.com/topics/morality/cloning.php) have formed opinions and published positions on the matter, attempting to reason their way through the dilemmas introduced by cloning on the basis of biblical texts that are not entirely relevant.  For example, Mr. Pratte asserts that God created “a proper way for humans to reproduce” (pointing to Genesis chapter 1,) and that “Cloning is a different means of reproduction from what God ordained. It does not involve a man and his wife reproducing by the means God ordained. That would seem to make it, in general, a violation of God’s intent. It changes what God authorized to something that He did not authorize (see Prov. 3:5,6; 14:12; Jer. 10:23; 2 John 9; Matt. 15:9; Col. 3:17; etc.).”

This argument makes little sense to me.  God created legs so that men could walk, but I do not believe that man’s recent advances in automobile and aerospace transportation offend God.  Operating an automobile does not involve eschewing a “God ordained” process in order to replace it with a man-made one.  It merely enhances our ability to move around the planet.  In the same way, I don’t believe that mainstream scientists in genetic medicine are proposing that humans give up natural intercourse-based fertilization and pregnancy, replacing it with the widespread use of test-tube babies.

Mr. Pratte also asserts that among the very limited reasons he can identify for human cloning is the production of children in homosexual relationships.  He says: “The reasons for cloning include a way for lesbians and homosexuals to reproduce, since their sexual practices are inherently sterile. This is clearly sinful, because homosexuality is sinful (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rom. 1:24-27). Further, it would produce a child that did not have a morally proper family to raise it.”  I take no issue with Pratte’s perspective on homosexuality, because he is accurately reflecting God’s perspective – as is clear from end-to-end in the Bible.   A society’s willingness to accept any practice is not an indication of its acceptability to God – as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah discovered.  But the basic argument that cloning should be ruled out because it enables people in gay relationships to produce children is just silly.  As illustrated in the example of the amputee above, there are sound medical opportunities for the application of cloning technology.  The fear of enabling more gay and lesbian families to produce offspring is a spurious rationale at best.  Although it is not a perfect analogy, it’s a bit like saying that people should never have started frying food because it has contributed to gluttony, which – like homosexuality – is clearly identified in the Bible as a sin.

Pratte’s final argument is – in my view – the most compelling, and indeed the only one that holds water.  But it holds an ocean of water.  Here it is: “The cloning process (as done now in animals) involves numerous “rejects.” When an egg is “fertilized” by cloning, it is often found to be imperfect or otherwise unacceptable, so it is “discarded” — i.e., killed, aborted, murdered. This is done repeatedly, in all cases of “cloning,” until an acceptable individual is achieved and implanted. This means that, if scientists experiment in cloning humans, they will necessarily abort dozens (probably hundreds) of humans before they ever succeed. And even if the cloning process is developed and improved, every attempted cloning will still involve discarding human beings! This is what is wrong with all forms of “test-tube babies.” Hence, cloning is inherently sinful for all the reasons that deliberate abortion of humans is sinful.”

However, while it may reflect current circumstances, it is likely that Pratte’s premise will prove false over the years ahead.  We will not always need to destroy a bunch of fertilized eggs in order to yield a sound one.  It is very likely that scientists will develop a method that does not require discarding “imperfect” embryos over time.  I have a high level of confidence that Pratt’s statement: “every attempted cloning will still involve discarding human beings!” is untrue.  This will naturally occur as materials, technologies, and our knowledge base all grow and mature.  In the same way that the rates of death during childbirth have declined as our medical technology has improved, the techniques surrounding the cloning process will mature and reduce the need for discarded fertilized eggs.  Of course, even one discarded egg is one egg too many.  But we still have some incidences of childbirth infant mortality and severe birth defects, and we do not stop having children.  We strive continually to reduce the incidence rates and keep reproducing.   While it’s true that we do not have to clone people to survive as a species, human cloning offers clear opportunities for the medical profession that could enable many talented and intelligent people to lead much longer and more productive lives.

In the mean time, here is a set of assertions that I make which are not provable, but I have great confidence in.  They reflect merely my own opinions:

  1. The experimentation, research, and improvement in technologies, methods, and applications of human cloning are going to continue whether it is supported by the Christian Community or not.  Simply adopting an anti-cloning position is likely to do nothing more significant than cause alienation and isolation of Christians and modern-day Christianity.
  2. The Bible does not address the subject of human cloning.  Pointing to the Bible’s encouragement to Christians to procreate naturally does not logically mean that Christians should resist cloning.  I have to believe that as long as men and women find pleasure in sexual intercourse, cloning is not likely to replace that process any time soon.
  3. Christians, especially Christians within the scientific community, have an opportunity to influence the direction and the protocols that are being developed around cloning, so as to minimize the destruction of fertilized eggs and to provide other protections where they are needed.  Without that influence, practices and protections of humans – born and unborn – will be left entirely in the hands of secularists.  That is not acceptable.
  4. Because we know that natural sets of identical twins occur today, and because we surmise that each of those twins is a fully autonomous individual with a soul and with all of the rights and privileges described by the US Constitution as inalienable rights endowed by the Creator, I think we must afford that same status to fully formed humans that are created via the human cloning process when it does occur.  Therefore it is unconscionable to grow an entire human being, and discard the life of that human being in order to harvest body parts.  Christians especially should resist the ending of human life for this purpose.
  5. When we can grow a human liver, a human leg, etc. without the surrounding human body and brain, I believe it reflects a natural maturation of human intellect and skills endowed by God, just as pacemakers and biogenetically re-engineered blood products do.  I believe that approach is perfectly acceptable, and the promise of medical advances available as a result of work in this area is compelling; all of us in the Christian Community should support them.

What do you think?

PS:  I have never met Mr. Pratte, whose article I have referred to a number of times in this blog.  However, I would like to mention that – while I don’t agree with several points in his reasoning, I have great respect for him.  Producing a written position and publishing that position in such a controversial topic area takes courage, and Mr. Pratte is clearly a intellectually courageous man.   It also shows that Christians can think critically about complex issues from daily life, and have a desire to address them from the perspective of the Bible.  I have enormous respect from Christians who engage their brains as well as their hearts, and grapple with these topics to help themselves and help each other in our continuing spiritual journey.  Conversely, I have much less respect for those who don’t.  From my perspective, Mr. Pratte is a value-adding Christian; I hope I will have an opportunity to meet him one day.

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes