Rogue Science and Human Cloning

The danger always exists that if science can do something, it will do it. But simply because something can be done does not mean that it should be done. Some scientific possibilities are better left alone, never to be pursued. Human cloning is one such case.

Ever since the cloning of Dolly the sheep back in 1997, the possibility of human cloning has been widely touted – and warned against. What was once the stuff of science fiction is now set to become reality. Many countries have therefore banned human cloning, but that has not stopped the rogue scientists from racing ahead with this.

One such figure has made the headlines before. Panayiotis Zavos, the Cyprus-born, American-based scientist, received worldwide attention in 2004 when he claimed to have cloned human beings. Of course nothing came of it, so he was soon forgotten.

But the maverick scientist is at it again, claiming that more human clones are on the way. This is how the Daily Mail reports the story: “The fertility doctor who claims to have created cloned human embryos and injected them into women desperate to have children is facing a barrage of criticism. Panayiotis Zavos says he placed 11 embryos, made from adult skin cells, into the wombs of four patients who paid up to £50,000. The women – including one Briton – did not become pregnant. But Dr Zavos, who made similar claims five years ago, is confident that the world’s first cloned baby could be born in as little as a year.”

Whether he actually comes up with the goods this time remains to be seen. But if in fact a human clone does emerge, then we are entering into a very worrying period indeed. There are plenty of reasons why human cloning should never be allowed.

Yet critics might ask, “What’s the big deal? Cloning is no different than identical twins.” True, natural cloning does take place in the case of identical twins. But this is a natural process, resulting in two distinct and unique human beings, each with an individual nature, but with an identical genetic makeup. Moreover, children have a genetic independence of their natural parents. They replicate neither their father nor their mother.

Also, as one genetic expert put it, “Just because something happens in nature, such as identical twins, doesn’t mean we should try to repeat it in the laboratory. Many people are born with handicaps – a missing limb, or perhaps an inability to reason at an average level – yet it would never be ethical to reproduce these events in the laboratory just because they occur naturally in about one in 50 births.”

Consider some important concerns about cloning. We know that the great majority of animal clones have had a very poor run. Dolly, for example, was put down in February 2003, suffering from premature arthritis and lung disease.

Also, scientists have admitted that up to 90 per cent of cloned lambs developed by the South Australian research centre that produced the nation’s first cloned sheep are dying soon after birth. And more recently, Prof Ian Wilmut (Dolly’s creator), has said that a review of all the world’s cloned animals suggests that every one of them is genetically and physically defective. Adding weight to these remarks, research published in Nature Genetics showed the high proportion of abnormalities among cloned animals.

Human cloning will just as likely have a horrendous track record. Ethicist Leon Kass asks, “If the attempts to clone a man result in the production of a defective ‘product,’ who will or should care for it, and what status and rights will it have? If the offspring is subhuman, are we to consider it murder to destroy it? The twin issues of the production and disposition of defectives provide sufficient moral grounds for rebutting any first attempt to clone a man.”

Also, there are all sorts of questions about family and identity which are raised here. As Dr Gillian Lockwood, the head of Midlands Fertility Services put it: “This seems to be the ultimate parental selfishness, to produce a clone of yourself. Even if a healthy child was born, the psychological pressure to grow up into a ‘mini-me’ would be completely intolerable. The dangers are overwhelming.”

Indeed, what will become of relationships? Primarily, what is a clone? Is he or she a child or a sibling to the donor? Is the donor a mother, father, guardian, sibling, representative or what? Would the parents of the donor be the clone’s actual parents? What will clones do to family relationships and definitions? Same-sex unions, IVF, surrogacy and other attempts to redefine families have already altered the social landscape. Clone relationships will only further unravel the family unit.

As philosopher Francis Beckwith says, “Imagine if an infertile couple were to produce a clone of the male partner in order to have a child. This poses some interesting problems. For example, the child/clone would technically be the father’s twin – and therefore a brother – and not the father’s son, because sons are the product of the union of a man’s genetic code with a woman’s.”

Or as one Australian fertility expert notes, “cloning will have serious implications, causing our fundamental sense of kinship to go awry. Cloning is even more genealogically perplexing than egg and sperm donation and surrogacy: lineages shift horizontally rather than flow vertically from generation to generation. . . . Whither the traditional nuclear family of Mum, Dad and the kids? Cloning would render the notion of ‘children’ meaningless, giving us copies of existing people instead, but possible decades after the cells of those people had been frozen.”

Moreover, who will decide who should be cloned? And for what reasons? What standards will guide those doing the cloning? It seems that incredible power will reside in those who have the ability to make such decisions. As C.S. Lewis warned way back in 1947, “if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendents what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger. . . . Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men”.

Indeed, the issue of cloning raises the question of designer children – creating children specially designed for the purposes and uses of others. As ethicist John Kilner points out, “to allow human cloning is to open the door to a much more frightening enterprise: genetically engineering people without their consent – not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of particular people or society at large. . . . If we allow cloning, we legitimize in principle the entire enterprise of designing children to suit parental or social purposes.”

Performing medical experiments without the consent of those involved has long been regarded as taboo. But in human cloning such lack of consent must of necessity be the case. Says Kass, “Since cloning requires no personal involvement on the part of the person whose genetic material is used, it could easily be used to reproduce living or deceased persons without their consent – a threat to reproductive freedom that has received relatively little attention.”

People may come up with all sorts of reasons why they believe human cloning should go ahead. But the dangers far outweigh any positives. This is one path we must not go down. Ultimately, human cloning is an attempt to play God, to take over his divine prerogatives. We are trying to evade death, and to seek utopia on earth. As Charles Krauthammer put it, “Cloning is the technology of narcissism, and nothing satisfies narcissism like immortality”.

Or as Cal Thomas has commented, “The descent of man from his once-exalted position as a unique being created in the image of God to an accident in an impersonal universe has been extraordinarily fast. When moral absolutes are sucked out of society, nothing is left to keep medical technology from cutting, probing, experimenting, even killing, except a vague and sentimental disgust.”

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6 Replies to “Rogue Science and Human Cloning”

  1. Dear Bill,

    Once again you challenge us to think past the initial idea, and into an area that is purely terrifying.

    One would think, with all the talk of Euthanasia and the like, that to create clones likely to have disabilities and health concerns, that they would not want to create more ‘drains on health funds’.

    As you eluded to, we will see abortions if some mothers find their children (?) will have a disability, we will see abandonment, and yes, we will see people being brought to trial for the murder of their children, or as they may simply reduce it to is ‘experiments gone wrong’.

    The romantic desire of perfection that is out there is one that will drive the world insane, in an attempt to perfect a fallen people. And I have to wonder, for I am unstudied in this area, are these clones going to be individuals such as twins are, or are they naturally inclined to grow up to be like their donor?

    With that in mind, I find it very confusing contemplating morals and clones. Many questions arise that would need to be brought back to the Character of God; I pray we do not have to do that any time soon. But scientists forget the element they cannot and will not be able to control, and that is the work God does, giving each a spirit, something they will never be able to clone.

    It looks like George Lucas’ Attack of the Clones is the scientific endeavor at hand.

    Michelle Guillemaud, Canada

  2. Thanks Michelle

    Yes many moral and spiritual questions do arise. From a Christian point of view, would a clone have a soul and would the clone be the object then of Christ’s sacrificial love? ‘Yes’ would seem to be the answer to both questions. He or she would be a real human being, with real spiritual needs, although created in a much different manner than normal reproduction.

    And it would be like a twin in some respects. But instead of having a copy of half the genetic material of each parent (23 chromosomes from each), it would have a copy of all the genetic material of the donor (46 chromosomes). Thus instead of being like a son or daughter, the clone will be like a brother or a sister, only it will grow up much later than the original, so there will be a marked age difference.

    And there will be plenty of questions of identity, family and relationship to work through. But like identical twins, even though sharing the same DNA, the environment will have a role to play in determining how the clone develops.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Bill,

    You make a very interesting point – in amongst all the debate about the ethics (or lack thereof) of trying to engineer humans, I didn’t see the issues in terms of family relationships.

    Thanks to most dodgy baby-creation processes being geared towards creating children, I would’ve thought clones would just be one-parent children (with all the associated issues) – But what relationship do they have to their donor’s parents?

    You ask some very good questions. 🙂

    Alison Keen

  4. Hi Bill,

    Even for me I am not sure what the point of cloning is. If it is to create a person (as in this case) then there are much better and safer ways to go about it, both natural and using IVF. For me it is almost pointless science. It is science for science sake and we do have to question why.
    Ben Green

  5. Humans try so hard to control, but as we can see this week re “the swine flu”, we have no control over anything. God always has the last say!
    Jane Byrne

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