|Clones and Cloning
Is Cloning Biblical?
How do you answer a question that Scripture never specifically asks? Just as it was beyond the imagination of biblical writers to address birth-control pills, artificial insemination, Living Wills, so Scripture never addresses cloning as a specific topic. The reason, of course, is that such medical technology was not available then. But how do we answer such ethical questions with Scripture? If there is no "Thou shalt not clone" in Scripture, how do we assess the moral quandry of whether or not to clone? Three questions might be helpful.
First, what is the intent or motive for cloning? Does the intent serve God's redemptive purposes in the world or does it promote sinful human desires?
Second, what are the consequences of cloning? Will cloning promote the values of God's kingdom in the world or will it destroy what God is seeking to promote?
Third, what theological value is violated by cloning? Or, is there a theological value that sanctions it? What is God's intent for procreation/reproduction? Would cloning serve that divine intent or undermine it?
These three questions provide a methodology for addressing ethical questions. Every ethical act will (1) arise out of a good intent, (2) promote the values of the kingdom, and (3) serve God's intent for his creation. But only Scripture can authoritatively describe good intentions, kingdom values and God's intent. Once we understand what God's agenda and intent are, then we may apply those principles to any ethical question, including cloning.
Here Come the....Clones?
We now live in a post-Dolly world where human cloning is no longer science fiction but a genuine possibility, and probably a future reality. A clone would be like a delayed identical twin. The clone and its "parent" would have identical genetic material, but they would differ in much the same way that identical twins differ in personality, interests and even physical characteristics due to environment, nurture and personal development. Clones would not be carbon copies, but new and different personal expressions of their "parent's" DNA material. Thus, clones would be people too.
Unfortunately, whatever humanity can do, it thinks it must do. Cloning will be no different. One day someone, somewhere will clone a human, but we should think about its ethical implications before we applaud it.
Why clone a human? It might serve as an alternative reproductive technology. Yet, for the foreseeable future in vitro fertilization (IVF) would serve as a less costly and more successful option for infertile couples. IVF now has a 10-20% success rate whereas Dolly was 1 of 277. Even if the parents have damaged genetic material, they might seek sperm and/or egg donors rather than cloning. Perhaps cloning might help combat genetic diseases--a laudable goal. But cloning simply replicates what is there; it does not fix damaged genetic material. Gene therapy has that redemptive potential, but not cloning.
So, why clone? The opportunity for narcissistic self-expression is overwhelming. Cloning might not so much serve the interest of the child as it would play to the ego of the one whose genetic material is replicated. It might serve our fallen desire to be our own creators.
The consequences of cloning might involve the devaluation of the nature of human reproduction. Children might become products rather than gifts; parenthood would become mechanistic replication rather than the union of two persons who together create a new genetic identity. We must think carefully about what cloning would symbolize about parenting, children and procreation. Would cloning demystify procreation, mechanize the process and undermine God's intent to fill the earth through heterosexual reproduction? In short, what kind of community would cloning produce?
Unlike identical twins, cloning would not involve the creation of a new genetic identity. Lacking the integration of two genetic identities--an egg and sperm--into a newly created one, it replicates rather than creates. The creative act, however, grounds our human dignity and individuality before God. Although its ultimate effect is the production of a human being, cloning predetermines what should probably remain open to the mystery of God's work in procreation.
One day we may meet a clone, or our grandchildren will. They would not be primarily "clones," however, but persons, and due the respect that all persons are owed. Whether we applaud the act or not, we should love the person.
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A version of this article first appeared in Christian Chronicle 54 (May 1997), 16.