Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Evangelical Christian Ethic for Life (ECEL), IV: Cloning

For our next discussion, we will look at the act of cloning. Cloning is the asexual production of genetically-identical individuals. It occurs in nature during the asexual reproduction of bacteria, insects, and plants, and can be artificially replicated in other sources as well. In recent years, advancements in cloning has allowed scientists to create clones of complex animals (such as livestock) and human embryos.

So far in this section, we have spent a great deal of time discussing Scriptural and traditional statements regarding the life-ethics we are debating. However, neither Scripture nor the ancient Christians considered the possibility of artificial replication of human life, embryonic life, or animals. Thus, little can be stated from these sources regarding cloning.

Therefore, with the topic of cloning, we will take a slightly different approach. We will discuss the ethics of each of the two basic types of cloning: animal cloning, and human cloning.

Animal Cloning
The ability to clone higher animals was first demonstrated in 1996, when the sheep Dolly became the first successful mammal to be cloned. Since that time, other large mammals have been cloned, including horses and cattle. Dogs have been cloned successfully, and (though the cloned animal’s life was very short), an extinct species (the Pyrenean ibyx) was cloned successfully as well.

From the standpoint of this series, we see little reason to be concerned with animal cloning. It is perhaps an example of “playing God”, but no more so than selective breeding. Furthermore, as humans have dominion over the animal kingdom per Genesis 1, we cannot conclude that, from a Christian standpoint, animal cloning is strictly prohibited. Rather, it should be considered on the basis of its practicality, stewardship, and usefulness. Morally, there appears no real problem.

Human Cloning
With human cloning, however, a new situation arises. Though we must concede that the Scripture never discusses cloning, there is a considerable wealth of evidence that humans are knit together by God, created and planned by God, given a soul by God, and imbued with a natural human dignity, as being made in God’s image.

Cloning of humans has, therefore, potentially dramatic spiritual impact. Does a cloned human (created by men) have a soul? That is, does God (in His foreknowledge) plan for the birth and therefore give the clone a soul? If so, then any act of cloning which is not successful is an act of murder, for cloning has an extremely low yield rate of success. If not, then we must grapple with the immorality of creating a creature without a soul. Based purely upon these possible spiritual concerns, we must admit that we Christians simply do not have enough information to allow human cloning; considering the gravity of the error if cloning is wrong, we must therefore reject human cloning on spiritual grounds.

In addition, there are other concerns about human cloning, from secular ethicists. Most animal clones are born with defects, and the same would likely be true of human clones: thus the question becomes, “What right does one human have to force a birth defect upon another human?”

The United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) addressed human cloning in 1997, concluding from purely secular ethics that human cloning was not an ethical act. The UN ethicists unanimously agreed that human cloning is unethical for the following reasons: it is an asexual mode of reproduction and therefore distorts family relationships and destroys generational lineage; it limits genetic differentiation, carrying the same problems as inbreeding; it reduces the uniqueness of human life; and it runs the risk of creating a market of humankind as a manufactured commodity rather than a person of dignity.

In addition, there are serious legal considerations. Since both the original and the clone are genetically identical, which is the “real” person? How do property rights get transferred? Is a clone a sibling or a child of the original? How can we distinguish crimes committed by one from the other?

As Christians, we neither reject nor condone animal cloning. With regard to human cloning, we wholeheartedly reject all such acts as unethical, degrading to humankind, spiritually dangerous, and legally perilous.