It has been a few years since I was a physics major and even then I didn’t learn too much but I’m going to try to explain the church’s difficulty with the issue of cloning. It is obviously a hot issue right now and I hope that I can explain things in terms everyone can understand. I will in no way claim to be an expert on the issue, but after some research I feel that I have a good handle on the issue and can discuss it. Because of my need for research on the matter, I’ve included web addresses of some sites I referenced at the end of this article.
The Bible, unfortunately, has nothing to directly say about cloning; that should be easy to figure out as it obviously wasn’t possible even 50 years ago. There is no Bible verses that even allude to it, saying, “You shall not make an exact likeness of yourself,” or “Creating children is only something God do.” What can be taken from the Bible on the issue revolves around the sanctity of life and mostly ends up becoming the same argument that is used against abortion.
The church’s typical stance on cloning is mostly the same as it is for abortion – against it. While this is probably the proper stance (and one taken by a lot of secular scientists who think human cloning to be irresponsible) I fear that most church members do not understand the issues at hand and simply say they are against cloning because their church or their pastor is against it. Hopefully I can clear the muddy waters to enable everyone to understand the position and be able to have their own conclusions on it without just accepting what someone else says.
First off, when we talk about cloning even the word creates problems. Science fiction gone awry immediately comes to mind when cloning is mentioned. From a scientific aspect, cloning is still a vague word however, because there are three types of cloning.
1) Embryonic cloning – this has actually existed since the late 70’s. It is a scientific process of duplicating the normal process that results in a woman having twins of triplets. (That’s fraternal twins – from one egg, then it splits.) This process has been used on humans but to a limited extent.
2) Adult DNA cloning – this is what the real uproar has been about lately. It is what “Dolly” the sheep was created using. It is also what scientists are trying to use to clone a human. I’ll explain the process in a moment.
3) Therapeutic cloning – this involves the same process as creating an adult clone except after 14 days the “pre-embryo” is killed allowing scientists to harvest stem cells. Stem cells can then be encouraged to grow into a kidney, liver, or some other organ.
To create a clone an egg is taken from a woman. This is then stripped of its DNA. (Egg cells, like sperm cells only have half the chromosomes of any other cell. This could be important to the debate, so I thought I’d mentioned it as there’s a difference between fertilizing and egg and cloning a cell.) The empty egg is given DNA from a person – this could be a complete set of chromosomes from the mother or from any other person. An electrical shock is given to the cell and in a small percent of tries, the cell starts dividing like a fertilized egg would.
In adult cloning, the egg is placed back into the mother where it divides and grows like any normal fertilized egg would. In therapeutic cloning, the egg is placed in a petri dish and allowed to divide for 14 days. Still in a “pre-embryo” stage stem cells are removed from it, resulting in its death. Stem cells can then be encouraged to grow into a specific type of cell, ultimately resulting in what could be a perfect genetic match of a kidney or liver for someone who is in need of one.
That is the science behind cloning. Even if all of that sounds rather simple the process rarely works as it is supposed. When it does work, it gives way to an assortment of ethical problems.
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Biblical issues with cloning
The biggest issue at hand is when does the cell or group of cells become a human being? The position taken by most who are against cloning is that life begins at conception, hence the issue becomes the same as that of abortion. In therapeutic cloning, a 14 day old baby would be killed. Posing a problem for those who take the view that life begins at conception is the fact that there is no actual conception of an egg.
It could be argued that because there is no fertilization of an egg, a baby is not created but rather a cell. If this is the case, killing this “pre-embryo” would be no different from me having a mole removed – it would be a lump of cells. A quote from newscientist.com says, “To say that a cloned ball of cells no bigger than a pinprick cannot be created to allow a grown person to live is cruelly dogmatic.” (The article later says that to uselessly kill a bunch of these is reproachable as well, so if nothing else, the editorial was advocating some limitations.) If a ball of cells is all this amounts to at 14 days it would be foolish to prohibit its use to create a better life for suffering people. While the cell contains the genetic material to become a life, it is not created naturally and therefore not a life at that point. (It at some point does later because in adult cloning, it becomes a baby – unless someone wishes to argue that the baby is not alive because it was not conceived.) This is the argument of those for cloning.
However, it can be argued that one single cell, no matter how it was created, will grow into a baby if given nine months. This could be a very good indication that it is human life, even at the point of being a single cell. In which case, life would not only begin at conception but at the point when a cell that has the potential to become a baby exists.
Some more food for thought: There is a high rate of death for zygotes (time from when a fertilized egg exists till it attaches to the uterine wall around week two). Around 60% of zygotes die in the fallopian tubes, while more die before attaching to the uterine wall. This high mortality rate occurs before the 14 days at which the stem cells are harvested.
What does the Bible say about any of this? The typical belief, as I stated, is that life begins at conception. We can’t however prove or disprove the notion. The Bible says that God knit us together in our mother’s womb. God also knew us before we were born. God is obviously involved in the process of creating life. That is why this is such an issue. If God didn’t care about a fetus before birth, it wouldn’t be much of an issue. But since abortion kills a child that God has been knitting together and God has known, it’s a much different. It still does nothing to say at what point a life is formed. It occurs at some point in the womb obviously and before birth.
This is where I go out on a limb from my conservative brothers and sisters. Please don’t cast your stones until you hear me out at least. I am unsure if a zygote becomes a “life” until it reaches the womb (the first two weeks are spent traveling down the fallopian tubes.) At the start of two weeks however, organs start being developed and brain activity is discernible at six. The problem becomes that if a human life is created, along with a soul, then heaven is full of people who never lived two weeks past conception. (This is of course assuming that children under a certain age go to heaven.) I could be very wrong, but when I reach heaven, I don’t expect to see a bunch of people who never lived two weeks past conception. At two weeks when organs are formed and an embryo takes on human characteristics, I believe that to end its life is to take the life of another human. Note: Abortions occur after two weeks and therefore I am still against them.
Does this mean I would approve of cloning? No, because this isn’t the end of the issue. There are more moral complications even if life is not created until after the time when stem cells are harvested.
First off, I am not certain and will never have any way of knowing if I am right. I would in no way bet my life or anyone else’s that I’m right on this issue. The Bible does not say and there is no way of knowing. Therefore, I can’t advocate killing “pre-embryos” even for the chance of extending another person’s life. I stand for the middle of the road on the issue, saying it is better to be safe then to kill thousands of lives.
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More moral issues with cloning
The issue doesn’t end here. If we can ignore the issue of whether a life is being taken, it only gets more complicated. Cloning is in the very early stages of development. In attempts to clone animals, scientists have had a very small amount of success. Certainly they have succeeded in doing it, but as simple as the process sounds (if you call the process I explained earlier simple) it simply doesn’t work most of the time.
To clone “Dolly” the sheep, it took 276 tries. Even now, scientists are unsure of their success. The sheep has developed arthritis and some fear that it may be due to premature aging. We can’t be sure because so far, this is our best subject to observe. If scientists clone a human and their body acts like it is middle aged when the child is only a teenager and dies of “old age” at 30, it would be an atrocity.
Moreover, in the successful attempts at cloning, many animals have come out deformed or having serious birth defects. Scientists have no idea why because their parents have no such problems. It is feared that to clone a human the same birth defects may be just as common.
DNA, as much as we have discovered about it, is still a big mystery. Researchers are discovering new things about it all the time. To be experimenting with it when we have no idea what the consequences are would be incredibly foolish. When the atom bomb was being tested in its early days, many people were subjected to radiation because the scientists did not understand all the principles. It would be horrible to create babies with unknown problems that they’d have to live with for the rest of their lives.
Therapeutic cloning holds many of the same problems. Scientists know what they want to do and they think they know how to do it. However, they can’t get it to work. Problems keep occurring that they don’t have explanations for at the time. Once they are successful, what do they do then? When a new drug comes out, it is tested for years on animals before it is used in humans. But once we have a human liver, do we just throw it in the person it was grown for? Once again, we have no idea what the ramifications are.
Even if we ignore the arguments of pro-life groups, cloning is not without its critics. While many in the scientific community herald the potential discoveries as earth shattering, just as many are asking for sensibility on the issue. While everyone is for finding a cure for paralysis or cancer, the risks involved in cloning may be too great.
Cloning is illegal in many countries. Some have banned human cloning, allowing therapeutic cloning, while others have banned therapeutic cloning. However, cloning will never be illegal everywhere and those who wish to practice it badly enough will simply go to another country where it is legal.
Some websites I visited seemed to blame pro-life groups for having cloning banned in many countries, saying that in countries where the pro-life movement isn’t as strong, it hasn’t been banned. Certainly, the pro-life movement is against cloning and has stood against it, but they cannot be the sole cause for its banning. If pro-life groups held enough political sway to ban cloning on their own, they would also be able to ban abortion. Obviously, there is enough of the scientific community who feel that cloning is too dangerous and wish to have it curbed.
I don’t know where this debate will go. As I write this, there have been claims that a cloned human baby have been born. This report comes from a radical group and many are skeptical of the claim. However, there is at least one credible doctor who is said to be near a breakthrough. It may be only a matter of time before a cloned baby is born. This does not remove any ethical questions concerning the process of cloning however.
If therapeutic cloning becomes successful and discovers the treatment for many diseases, there will still be those who ask, “At what cost has this come, thousands of unborn?” While the methods are yet to be successful, those against it hold the high ground. If the practice is ever successful, the debate will explode to unbelievable proportions. It will become more volatile than the issue of abortion and more heated.
For now, however, it is in its “pre-embryo” stage and has not grown into what it may fully be. Only time will tell if it is snuffed out or grown into a powerful and respected field of science.