Cloning--Scientific and Biblical Ramifications [Part II]
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Part I of this two-part series appeared in the May issue. Part II follows below and continues, without introductory comments, where the first article ended.]
As a result of the success of recent experiments in genetic engineering, the cloning of humans is on the minds of many, both among the general populace and with in the scientific community. In the past, the cloning of humans was a subject best discussed within the genre of science fiction novels, not scientific journals. When scientists, or science writers, did discuss the possibility of human cloning, their comments usually went something like this:
This is far beyond the reach of today’s science. There is a vast difference between cloning an embryo that is made up of immature, undifferentiated cells and cloning adults cells that have already committed themselves to becoming skin or bone or blood. All cells contain within their DNA the information required to reproduce the entire organism, but in adult cells access to parts of that information has somehow been switched off. Scientists do not yet know how to switch it back on (Elmer-Dewitt, 1993, p. 66).
In this statement, Philip Elmer-Dewitt, a writer for Time magazine, echoed what seemed to be a commonly-shared view among the researchers involved in genetic engineering. No one had been able to clone mammals using adult somatic cells, because for some unknown reason a great portion of the DNA in those cells had been “switched off.” But, as the old saying goes, “That was then; this is now.”
THE STORY OF AN “UDDERLY INCREDIBLE” LAMB
What a difference four years makes in science! In the Table of Contents of the February 27, 1997 issue of Nature (the official organ of the British Association for the Advancement of Science), there appeared what seemed at first glance to be an innocuous article titled “Viable Offspring Derived from Fetal and Adult Mammalian Cells” (Wilmut, et al., 1997). That article, however, announced the results of scientific research so significant that it not only would make history, but change forever the way scientists viewed cloning in both animals and humans.
Researchers from the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland had accomplished what almost everyone in the scientific community thought to be impossible. Headed by embryologist Ian Wilmut, Scottish scientists produced a lamb using genetic material from the mammary cell of an adult ewe. The young lamb, named Dolly, did not owe her existence to a procreative act occurring between a ram and a ewe. Instead, Dolly was the result of a laboratory exercise in cloning. When her existence was announced, the entire world gasped—first in disbelief, then in amazement! As Time put it, the Scottish researchers had succeeded in
...scoring an advance in reproductive technology as unsettling as it was startling. Unlike offspring produced in the usual fashion, Dolly does not merely take after her biological mother. She is a carbon copy, a laboratory counterfeit so exact that she is in essence her mother’s identical twin (Nash, 1997, p. 62).
Technique used by Wilmut, et al. to clone a sheep. Their breakthrough involved starving body cells of nutrients, thus interrupting the normal cycle of growth and division. In this quiescent stage, the cell can be “reprogrammed” to function as a newly fertilized egg (after Travis, 1997, 151:215).
Here is what Dr. Wilmut did to make Dolly a reality. As noted earlier, embryonic cells are easier to use in cloning experiments than adult somatic cells because they are, for the most part, undifferentiated. In other words, they have not matured to the point where they have been able to carry out the instructions contained in the DNA within their nucleus that direct them to become skin cells, brain cells, eye cells, etc. In its young, embryonic state, an undifferentiated cell can become any other cell in the body, because it has the capacity to activate any given gene on any given chromosome. Non-embryonic somatic cells, however, already have carried out their DNA instructions, and as a result are differentiated (i.e., in their mature state, they have become hair cells, muscles cells, nerve cells, etc.). As a result, huge portions of the DNA instructions have been “deactivated,” so that mature cells can carry out their particular function(s). Thus, much of the information coded within the DNA of adult cells no longer is accessible, having been “turned off ” at maturity because it no longer is needed by the cell.
In the past, most scientists involved in the broad area of genetic engineering thought that the differentiation process was irreversible. However, Dr. Wilmut and his coworkers disproved that idea by devising a way to “reactivate” the portions of the DNA molecule that previously had been deactivated, thus making adult somatic cells candidates for cloning.
First, the team of Scottish scientists searched for a mechanism that would allow them to arrest the normal cell cycle (i.e., the process through which all cells go as they mature and prepare to reproduce themselves). They surmised that this might be accomplished by starving cells of the nutrients they normally would need to grow. Some of the cells chosen for the experiment were from the udder of a Finn Dorset ewe. Once deprived of these critical nutrients, the mammary gland cells fell into a sort of “suspended animation” (what, in live animals, would resemble hibernation), a state in which they remained for one week.
Second, using the procedure (discussed previously in this series of articles) known as “nuclear transfer,” Dr. Wilmut took an unfertilized oocyte (i.e., an egg cell) from a Scottish Blackface ewe and carefully removed its nucleus, leaving the remainder of the cell (cytoplasm, cell membrane, etc.) completely intact (see Stewart, 1997). Then, he took the quiescent mammary gland cell, placed it next to the oocyte, and gently applied short bursts of electrical current, which prompted the egg cell to bond with the somatic cell and absorb its nucleus (containing a full complement of chromosomes) as its own. As a result, the egg cell possessed the number of chromosomes it would contain if it had been fertilized by the male’s sperm. The biochemical activity usually associated with a zygote (the cell that results when sperm and egg combine) then began to occur.
Third, after one week of carefully-monitored growth, the laboratory-engineered embryo then was inserted into the uterus of a surrogate ewe, to see if it would implant successfully and grow to term.
All of this may sound quite simple, but it is not. Dr. Wilmut’s success came only after a long string of failures. In fact, he reported in his article in Nature that out of 277 eggs fused with udder cells, he and his team were able to produce only 29 embryos that survived more than six days. Of those 29, all died before birth except Dolly.
To the uninitiated, all of this may seem at best much ado about nothing, or at worst a complete waste of time, effort, and money. Why go to all the trouble and expense to clone an animal, when normal reproductive processes can produce an animal without all the fuss? “Just let nature take its course,” some might say.
There is much more to it than that, however. Cloning has the potential to make animal husbandry more effective and efficient. Imagine (to use just one example) the plight of the dairy farmer searching for a way to breed cattle that produce better milk in greater quantities. If he could isolate one or more cattle that consistently produced more, and better, milk than all the others, he could have them cloned, thus guaranteeing whole herds of the highest quality milk-producing animals.
In addition, cloning has the potential both to reduce human suffering, and to extend human life. Suppose (again, to choose just one hypothetical example) that scientists were able to discover a mechanism by which they could genetically alter chimpanzees so that portions of their immune systems, or products manufactured by those immune systems, were indistinguishable from those found in humans whose own immune systems were diseased or damaged, and thus incapable of fighting off disease to sustain life. These chimpanzees then could be cloned so that as many copies as needed could be produced, thereby ensuring life-saving animal products in an endless supply for use in humans.
Further, cloning has the potential to enlarge our knowledge about how cells differentiate and reproduce. Using the information gleaned from the study of the cell during cloning, scientists believe they could learn more about why cancer cells grow out of control, or why birth defects occur. In short, cloning does hold forth immense potential in many different areas and, used properly, could offer tremendous benefits to mankind (see Scientific American, 1997).
The operative phrase, here, however, is “used properly.” With cloning, as with many of the technologies offered by modern science, there can be serious scientific and biblical ethical implications. Rarely is the technology, in and of itself, morally objectionable; instead, it is the use of the technology that makes it so. Part of the problem is the fact that science itself is not equipped to deal with moral issues. There is nothing within the scientific method, for example, that can dictate whether nuclear energy should be used to destroy cancer cells, or entire cities. That is a judgment far beyond the scope of science to make.
Unfortunately, once the technology is made available, there are those who are prepared to employ it, regardless of any ethical problems that might be associated with it. Since many within the scientific community either do not believe in God, or do so only accommodatively, they neither are interested in, nor restricted by, the guidelines and principles set forth in His Word. As a result, in their eyes the simple fact that the technology is available is reason enough to use it. Within the scientific community, this is referred to as the “technological imperative”—whatever can be done should be done!
WILL WE BE ABLE TO CLONE HUMANS?
In regard to cloning, the most pressing questions on almost everyone’s mind are: (a) why would anyone want to clone a human in the first place; (b) if attempts at cloning humans are successful, would a clone be an exact duplicate of the original; (c) will we eventually be able to clone humans; and (d) most important, would humans produced by cloning possess a soul?
Why would anyone want to clone a human? First, parents might want to clone a child as a “replacement” for one that had died. Second, parents might want to clone a child to provide compatible organ transplants for a diseased relative. [There have been cases of women wanting to become pregnant so they could abort the child to provide fetal brain cells for transplantation into a relative (e.g., a parent suffering from Parkinson’s Disease).] Third, individuals might want to have themselves cloned to guarantee immortality—if not in soul, at least in body. Fourth, some may desire to clone a human simply for the prestige and adulation that inevitably will result from having accomplished what no one else has been able to do. A Nobel Prize can provide a very strong incentive indeed!
If attempts at cloning humans are successful, would a clone be an exact duplicate of the original? A clone would be an exact genetic duplicate of the original—the word “genetic” providing a critical distinction. Merely possessing identical genes does not guarantee identical people. Ask anyone with identical twins. In fact, twins would be more alike than clones for the simple reason that the twins would have shared the same environment, upbringing, etc. People are more than merely a “bag of genes.” Each of us is the end-product of many different external forces that influence us from cradle to grave. Our personalities and attitudes are formed by parents, friends, teachers, daily routines, societal interactions, and many other factors that affect us during our lifetimes.
Will we be able to clone humans eventually? That remains to be seen. No scientist can answer that question, for to do so would be to possess the ability to predict the future—something neither a scientist, nor science, is equipped to do. Furthermore, there are too many unknowns. We do not know if human adult somatic cells will respond the same way adult somatic cells from sheep responded. We do not know if the process used to produce Dolly (nuclear transfer) would work in humans. And so on.
However, if the question were reworded so that it asked, “Will scientists attempt to clone humans?,” I think the answer would be “yes.” An analogy might be helpful. When mountaineers are asked why they ascend a challenging (and often life-threatening) mountain, they routinely respond: “...because it’s there.” Some scientists likely will take the same approach. When asked why current technology should be used to clone humans, they will respond: “...because it’s there.” One writer has suggested:
...it is not a question as to whether we will attempt to clone a human being or not. Many technical hurdles will have to be overcome first before we can attempt to produce cloned humans, so they say. But if the moral and ethical scientists want to wait, or even shrink in fear from such an undertaking, there are many in the world who have the financial means, who do not have any scruples or reservations about cloning humans. What about them? (Sinapiades, 1997, p. 6, emp. in orig.).
I believe it no longer is a matter of if attempts will be made to clone humans using this new technology, but only when. Eventually some scientist, or group of scientists, will yield to the temptation to apply the Scottish scientists’ methodology to the human race.
If (and this is a big “if ”) scientists are successful in cloning humans, the most pressing question then becomes—will the people so produced possess a soul? Much of the debate occurring today (especially in religious circles) centers on this question. For example, three staff writers for U.S. News & World Report posed the question, “Would a cloned person have its own soul?,” and answered it as follows: “Most theologians agree with scientists that a human clone and its DNA donor would be separate and distinct persons. That means each would have his or her own body, mind, and soul” (Herbert, et al., 1997, p. 63).
In addressing what at the time was the unlikely possibility of the cloning of humans, Gish and Wilson asked: “What do we say, then? Would a clone be truly human? The answer is that, indeed, he would be human, for its life came from human life even though in a manner different than is usually the case” (1981, p. 174). In addition, they noted, the cloned human “is already alive, responsible to God for his actions, needing to preserve his own body against sickness, to see that he is properly fed, and all the rest. Each clone would have its own individual responsibility, its own soul” (p. 172).
I concur with such an assessment. In James 2:26, James made this observation: “The body apart from the spirit is dead.” The point, of course, was that when the spirit departs the body, death results. But there is an obvious, and important, corollary to that statement. If the body is alive, it must be the case that the spirit is present. This is a biblical principle that cannot, and must not, be ignored—especially in light of the present controversy. The simple fact of the matter is that if (again, a very big “if ”) scientists succeed in cloning living humans, those clones would possess a soul.
But only God can instill a soul. It is He Who “giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts 17:25). It is only “in Him” that “we live, and move, and have our being...” (Acts 17:28). The real issue is not whether man is intelligent enough to clone a human, but whether or not—should that eventually happen—God will choose to instill the lifeless creature in the laboratory with a soul. This is a question no one can answer.
SHOULD WE CLONE HUMANS?
Very often it is the case that with increased knowledge also comes increased power. And with increased power comes the potential for misuse or abuse of that power. The question, “will we be able to clone humans?” is not the same question as “should we clone humans?” The first is a question to be answered by an appeal to science; the second is a question to be answered by an appeal to the Word of God.
Oddly, at times those who do not believe in God or His Word as an objective moral standard seem to understand the ethical/moral issues better than some Christians. For example, long before the technology was available that could lead to human cloning, evolutionist Gunther Stent of the University of Southern California stated: “The idea of cloning humans is morally and aesthetically completely unacceptable” (as quoted in Howard and Rifkin, 1977, pp. 125-126). Compare that with the comment of Christian ethicist Randy Harris of David Lipscomb University: “Although there has been a good deal of rhetoric on the evils that are just ahead, I have yet to hear a cogent ethical argument as to why even the cloning of a human would be wrong” (1997, p. 16).
There are, in fact, several “cogent ethical arguments” that can, and should, be made against the cloning of humans, only two of which I would like to mention here.
Cloning’s “Failures” Represent Dead Human Beings
It is one thing to attempt—and fail—277 times using sheep cells in an attempt at cloning. Sheep are animals that do not possess souls, and that are not made in the “image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). But it is quite another thing to try—even once—and fail in an attempt to clone a human. Embryos are living human beings! [On occasion, pro-abortion forces often argue that embryos within the womb are “not living.” If that is the case, then leave them alone. This, of course, is hardly an option, because in nine months the end-result is a human baby—something impossible to explain if the embryo was “not living” to begin with.] A laboratory littered with dead and dying sheep embryos is one thing; a laboratory littered with dead and dying human embryos is quite another!
Ask any knowledgeable ethicist, Christian or otherwise, and he or she will confirm that basic medical ethics requires that in any experiment, the subject must know the risks and give “informed consent.” In the case of cloning, however, the tiny embryo being produced (and that more often than not will die) can do no such thing. With cloning—if the success rate of the Scottish scientists is taken at face value—the failure rate will be staggering.
Basic medical ethics also requires that the experiment be to the subject’s benefit. Laboratory procedures for cloning humans scarcely would be to the benefit of the cloned embryos. Scottish scientist Wilmut and his colleagues saw 277 of the embryos they had produced perish before they saw a single one live. What if the same failure rate held true for the cloning of humans? Or, for the sake of argument, suppose that somehow the failure rate could be cut in half (in other words, out of 277 attempts, “only” 139 human embryos died in the process)? Would that then be ethically and morally acceptable? It would not! Producing human embryos—with the full knowledge that many more of them will die than will live—is indeed (to quote evolutionist Stent) “morally and aesthetically completely unacceptable.” Medical ethicist Paul Ramsey has suggested that we cannot even develop the kinds of reproductive technologies being discussed here “without conducting unethical experiments upon the unborn who must be the mishaps (the dead and retarded ones) through whom we learn how” (as quoted in Restak, 1975, p. 65).
Human life, as a gift from God (Acts 17:25), is sacred. The Proverbs writer observed that “there are six things which Jehovah hateth; yea, seven which are an abomination unto him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood” (6:16-17). Yet there is a tendency to ignore these divine principles, and to view human life as that which may be destroyed capriciously. Should Christians consider laboratories teeming with the dead and dying human embryos that resulted from failed attempts at cloning to be a “cogent ethical argument” against such procedures? Or should they instead, to use Leon Kass’ words, simply “leave it so that discarding laboratory-grown embryos is a matter solely between a doctor and his plumber” (as quoted in Restak, 1975, p. 65)?
Further, in examining the ethical issues surrounding procedures such as these, the implications of the various technologies must be acknowledged. For example, if cloning were possible:
It could be used to provide children for unmarried people.
Parents could pre-select the sex (and many other attributes) of their child(ren).
Women’s liberation would be complete, since no male would be needed. The old Cockney saying, “It takes a man to make a girl,” no longer would be true.
Large batches of human clones could be made for statistical studies.
Clones could be produced in order to harvest “spare parts” for transplants (e.g., bone marrow, organs, etc.).
People enamored of their own importance could ensure that exact genetic replicas of themselves were brought into existence via cloning—by tens or hundreds if they so desired.
If we scrutinize the alleged benefits of human cloning, there is less here than at first meets the eye. Producing people for spare parts, or to use as guinea pigs, is repugnant. David Lygre wrote: “The current risks of abnormality and our reverence for human life should rule these experiments out” (1979, p. 44). Indeed they should.
Cloning Circumvents God’s Plan for Reproduction
In a series of articles authored some years ago, Wayne Jackson remarked that these scientific experiments “strike at the very heart of God’s arrangement for human reproduction within the circle of the family unit and all that this involves” (1979, 15:3; see also Jackson, 1994, pp. 27-36). The use of such things as donor sperm, donor eggs, surrogate mothers, and cloning stand in stark contradistinction to God’s divinely designed plan for the home. While many things, biblically, could be said about God’s design of the home, one thing is clear. It is through the family unit (which includes both a husband and wife in the procreative act) that God intended for children to be brought into this world. According to divine design, marriage is to precede the bearing of children (1 Timothy 5:14). And it is not by accident that Moses recorded: “And the man [Adam—BT] knew Eve, his wife; and she conceived...” (Genesis 4:1; emp. added). Jack Evans correctly observed that God’s
...spiritual law says the oneness of the flesh can be approved only by Him in the marriage of the male and female who are producing another part of their flesh (Hebrews 13:4; I Corinthians 6:16; 7:1-5). Thus, the Bible teaches that the male and female producing the offspring of the one flesh, according to spiritual law, must be married to each other. ...It is obvious that marriage precedes bearing children. Thus, if the female bearing the child is not married to—is not one flesh with—the male in the reproduction process, they violate God’s spiritual law (1987, p. 358).
God’s plan is that children be produced through the husband and wife via their “one flesh” covenant. The world often forgets that childbearing never was intended to be an end within itself, but is part of a much larger plan.
Any action that ignores, or nullifies, God’s plan for the home, and reproduction within the framework of the home, must be avoided and opposed. Cloning does just that. It circumvents the principle of a husband and wife becoming “one flesh,” and through that procedure bringing children into the world. The family unit was planned to provide an atmosphere of love and trust (Proverbs 15:17; 17:1), which would create an ideal environment for spiritual growth. To ignore these truths is to miss the real meaning of the divinely planned family, and the procreative acts that God placed within that family unit.
Each day brings exciting new scientific discoveries. Improved techniques block pain and prevent suffering. New medicines cure or prevent diseases. Advancements in knowledge and methodology continually work to mankind’s benefit. As Suzuki and Knudtson concluded:
There is no reason to fear the stunning new conceptions of human hereditary disease now emerging from genetics research. In fact, we can rejoice that this new genetic knowledge is certain to improve the prevention, detection and treatment of many previously untreatable genetic disorders. At the same time, each of us shares responsibility for ensuring that techniques allowing the manipulation of the human genome are never exploited for arbitrary and self-serving ends or in ways that fail to consider the potential long-term consequences of large-scale genetic repair on human populations (1989, pp. 206-207).
Certainly, the faithful child of God may support many scientific advances that cure disease, alleviate suffering, and make life better. But the Word of God is the criterion against which every advance must be measured. The end does not always justify the means.
Elmer-Dewitt, Philip (1993), “Cloning: Where Do We Draw the Line?,” Time, pp. 65-70, November 8.
Evans, Jack (1987), “Is Surrogate Motherhood Sinful?,” Gospel Advocate, 129:358, June 18.
Gish, Duane T. and Clifford Wilson (1981), Manipulating Life: Where Does It Stop? (San Diego, CA: Master Books)
Harris, Randy (1997), “Will There Ever Be Another You?...Ewe?,” Christian Chronicle, 54:16-17, May. [Harris is one of several scientists, theologians, and philosophers whose positions on cloning are presented in a special two-page spread, edited by Lindy Adams.]
Herbert, Wray, Jeffrey L. Sheler, and Traci Watson (1997), “The World After Cloning,” U.S. News & World Report, 122:59-63, March 10.
Howard, Ted and Jeremy Rifkin (1977), Who Should Play God? (New York: Dell).
Jackson, Wayne (1979), “Ancient Ethics in a Modern World,” Christian Courier, 14:41-47; 15:2-4,6-8, May/June.
Jackson, Wayne (1994), Biblical Ethics & Modern Science (Stockton, CA: Courier Publications).
Lygre, David (1979), Life Manipulation (New York: Walker).
Nash, J. Madeleine (1997), “The Age of Cloning,” Time, 149:62-65, March 10.
Restak, R.M. (1975), Pre-Meditated Man (New York: Viking).
Scientific American, “Special Report: Making Gene Therapy Work,” 276:95-106.
Sinapiades, Mike (1997), “Cloning, Clowning, or What?,” First Century Christian, 19[2& 3]:6, February/March.
Stewart, Colin (1997), “An Udder Way of Making Lambs,” Nature 385:769,771, February 27.
Suzuki, David T. and Peter Knudtson (1989), Genethics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
Travis, John (1997), “A Fantastical Experiment,” Science News, 151:214-215, April 5.
Wilmut, Ian, A.E. Schnieke, J. McWhir, A.J. Kind, and K.H.S. Campbell (1997), “Viable Offspring Derived from Fetal and Adult Mammalian Cells,” Nature, 385:810-813, February 27.
In addition to part one of the current article, other references to cloning are available on our Web site
The following articles are available off-site. We do not necessarily endorse the material you find at these links. They are provided for information purposes only.
Roslin Institute. Information from the Scottish research center that cloned Dolly.
Salon. Interview with Ian Wilmut—one of the principal scientists who cloned Dolly.
Genomics. Comprehensive links to scientific, legal, and ethical issues. Sponsored by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
Reason Magazine. Favors few restrictions on cloning humans.
Yahoo! Cloning Update. Links to news reports and other sites on cloning.
Dolly, the Finn Dorset lamb, and her Scottish Blackface surrogate mother (Roslin Institute)