Experimentation in human cloning is now a given. Researchers, speaking at a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) meeting last week publicly announced that they are experimenting with human cloning. While noting that they have yet to clone a human being, they also promised that next step will soon be taken. The scientifically possible has once again become inevitable.
An Associated Press article on August 8 characterized researchers as pursuing human cloning research to enable infertile men to have children. Why would the researchers latch on to this one possible casean infertile man? The 70 million men worldwide who can reproduce through no other means allows proponents to offer a scenario, which makes an end run one key objection to human cloningthe need for a surrogate mother willing to carry the cloned embryo in her womb. This objection could be overcome with a married couple looking to cloning as a means of allowing the husband to reproduce, when no other options were viable. This best-case scenario also permits the researchers to show how cloning could benefit a loving, married couple, not just an individual (which could be the case in cloning a woman).
However, the quest to provide the childless man with offspring will have researchers wading through murky, and often dense black, ethical waters. Heres how the process of cloning works. All genetic material is removed from a human egg. Then the genetic code from an adult cell is implanted into that blank slate. This is unlike normal human sexual reproduction, or even invitro fertilization, which both combine the DNA of the two parents. The result in cloning is an embryo that has the same genotype (genetic code) as the individual who donated the cell. It should be noted that while the genotype is the same, the cloned human would be no more like the cell donor than one twin is like another. The genetic code is the same, but the full-grown human produced would never be a carbon copy of the original.
Scientists who have worked on animal cloning say that trial and error yields results, but the success rate remains quite low. Numerous animals die before birth, while many others are born with severe abnormalities. The Associated Press article on the NAS meeting noted that the success rate in many labs working on animal cloning is about 3 percent. We can expect that more than nine out of ten attempts to clone a human will result in failure. We can further expect that many births will result in abnormalities similar to those found in animal testing, which include problems in metabolism, muscle structure, and congenital defects.
Moral choices will abound as human cloning experimentation moves forward. How will decisions be made on which fetuses are carried to term and what is to happen with the failures? What is to be done with the live births that show severe abnormalities? The course of action seemed clear for researchers when the subjects were sheep, but what will happen with research on humans? What standard will scientists use to navigate their way through the moral morass?
A further concern is the childless father, and presumably mother, cloning researchers say they want to help. My wife, Victoria, and I lost a baby in the fifth month of pregnancy. We experienced a very real and profound grief in that loss of an unborn child. And yet, we experienced only a fraction of the loss a couple would experience through being the test case in human cloning. What untold grief will couples experience in the trial and error of researching human cloning?
I think there is also a more fundamental problem with human cloning. At its core, the ideal in cloning is to recreate a new life with the genetic code of another person. Cloning has even been touted as a means to immortality, allowing your own genetic makeup to live on. This idealization of an individuals genetic code sounds a lot to me like what the Bible calls idolatry. Your own genetic code, your image, becomes the object of desire and ultimately worship as it becomes the good sought at any price.
The Bible certainly views children as a gift from God, but unlike the ancient cultures surrounding the Hebrews, childless people were not seen as cursed by God (though they might feel so). Jesus taught that while family connections are important, they should be seen relative to our love of God. Jesus held out the promise of eternal life not through having children, but through laying hold of the promises made to us as children of God.
Our genetic makeup (the good and the bad) is a gift from God, which is not to be idolized and replicated in a lab. We can best honor Gods gift by offering ourselves back to God through a life lived where love of God and love of neighbor come before love of our self.
(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526