Panayiotis Zavos, a global leader in assisted reproduction, told Congress last year that he, Italian physician Severino Antinori, and others would work with infertile couples to produce the world's first human clone by 2003. "Human cloning is around the corner," Zavos said. "The genie is out of the bottle." Zavos suggests that the world will hail the scientist who produces the initial human clone as a Neil Armstrong of the 21st century.
Renegade scientists and a handful of infertile couples are not the only cheerleaders for human cloning. Some biotech activists urge that cloning be included within a broader definition of human rights. Forty Nobel laureates anxiously proclaimed in April that a cloning ban would have a "chilling effect on all scientific research in the United States." Outspoken advocates for disease research and assorted Senators promote human cloning, but only if human embryonic clones are destroyed for their useful stem cells. Birth is never an option.
Reproductive cloning of a human being could happen sooner than we imagine, but Congress should never allow any form of cloning on American soil. As President Bush has said, "Advances in biomedical technology must never come at the expense of human conscience. Life is a creation, not a commodity."
Since the 1997 cloning of the sheep Dolly, Americans have become more opposed to cloning, especially for reproduction. Public opposition to cloning declines when this technology is hyped as a miracle therapy to cure myriad diseases.
In "therapeutic cloning," stem cells from an embryonic clone are transformed into specialized cells, which are introduced into a diseased organ to bring about the growth of new, healthy tissue.
Nonetheless, there are huge practical barriers to therapeutic use of stem cells from embryonic clones. Researchers have not solved the problem of tissue rejection. Also, new research reveals that transplanted embryonic cells may develop into harmful tumors. For clone therapy to be widely available, physicians will need millions upon millions of donated human eggs. According to one estimate, 800 million human eggs would be required to treat the 16 million Americans with diabetes using cloned embryonic stem cells. Some biotech experts admit a growing demand for donated human eggs would quickly outstrip the short supply. Tissue rejection, tumors, and the egg shortfall are warning signs that therapeutic cloning "fails the utility test," in the words of author Wesley Smith.
Advocates argue that therapeutic cloning is the fast track to medical breakthroughs sought by millions. But Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a cloning opponent and a surgeon, says research breakthroughs using stem cells do not require the fresh destruction of embryos, cloned or otherwise. Scientists are succeeding in using adult stem cells against disease. And, under last year's compromise by an agonized President Bush, the federal government is starting research on more than 60 lines of embryonic stem cells.
The therapeutic-cloning lobby argues that a human embryo is a nonbeing. Two of the largest Orthodox Jewish groups have taken this perspective. "[A] fertilized embryo in a petri dish does not have the status of human life," Edward Reichman, a rabbi and physician, told The Washington Post. If that kind of embryo is useful in saving lives, "[it] is something we would welcome with open arms."
Cloning advocates seem to have the moral high ground because curing the sick and helping the handicapped are deeply ingrained in all of us. But the promise of modern medicine must not breach our biblical commitment that each human life, even an embryonic clone, has essential value. An embryo is not like an acorn from an oak tree. Human embryos meet all the essential definitions of living beings.
Dignity for Everybody
"[Surplus] embryos that will be used for research do not have a brain," Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer wrote recently in The Age (Australia). "They have no nervous system. They cannot feel pain. They are not conscious."
Despite Singer's argument, at no point in the life of any human, even a clone, is that being anything other than human from its first-cell stage, until decades later, at the body's last heartbeat. In the wake of many historic abuses, scientists, ethicists, and lawmakers have developed widely embraced limits on research that would be violated if cloning is legalized.
Advances in cloning will require many embryos to be destroyed in experimentation. Cloning research goes against the bioethical requirement that human subjects grant "informed consent." That's not possible with an embryo. It would be cruel to ask a parent or guardian to authorize taking a human life to assist medical research.
Cloning proponents offer no assurance that reasonable limits would be enacted to prevent clone farms, designer children, or eugenics. Cloning undermines human dignity, which for Christians is based on the biblical understanding that each person is an individual whose ultimate maker is the God of all Creation.
The Senate will soon debate and vote on the Brownback-Landrieu bill (S. 1899). This well-drafted legislative ban on all human cloning places a clear moral limit on biotech research. Senators should show wisdom by approving it. Our goal should not be to make cloning "safe and effective," but to make it illegal.
Copyright © 2002 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today recommended against human cloning in a 1997 editorial, "Stop Cloning Around."
In April, President Bush called on the Senate to back Senator Brownback's ban saying, "Allowing cloning would be taking a significant step toward a society in which human beings are grown for spare body parts, and children are engineered to custom specifications; and that's not acceptable."
Severino Antinori said last week that three women are now pregnant with clones.
See our October cover story, "A Matter of Life and Death: Why shouldn't we use our embryos and genes to make our lives better? The world awaits a Christian answer."
Recent Christianity Today articles on cloning and bio-ethics include:
Weblog: 'All Human Cloning Is Wrong,' Says BushPublic is 4-to-1 against all human cloning, but Senate is evenly split on comprehensive ban.
Weblog: The Prolife PushIt's 2002, time to ban cloning. (January 15, 2002)
New Coalition Rallies Against Human CloningAfter Advanced Cell Technology announcement, sharp criticism comes from all sides. (December 20, 2001)
Books & Culture Corner: "Daddy, What Is the Soul?"Does the church have an answer? (December 10, 2001)
Books & Culture Corner: 'We Now Know'The boast of imperial science. (December 3, 2001)
Opinion Roundup: 'Only Cellular Life'?Christians, leaders, and bioethics watchdogs react to the announcement that human embryos have been cloned. (November 29, 2001)
Weblog: Human Cloning's 'Success'Human embryos cloned for 1st time. (November 26, 2001)
CT Classic: Doctors Under OathModern medicine has misplaced its moral compass. Can Hippocrates help? (November 26, 2001)
Books & Culture Corner: "24 Cow Clones, All Normal" … Oh yes, and a few cloned human embryos that died. (November 26, 2001)
The New TyrannyBiotechnology threatens to turn humanity into raw material. (Oct. 5, 2001)
Gen-EtiquetteScientists may be mapping the genome, but it will be up to us to determine where the map will lead. (Oct. 4, 2001)
Manipulating the Linguistic CodeReligious language falling into the hands of scientists can be a fearful thing. (Oct. 4, 2001)
Times FiftyCan a clone be an individual? A short story. (Oct. 2, 2001)
The Genome DoctorThe director of the National Human Genome Research Institute answers questions about the morality of his work. (Oct. 1, 2001)
Wanna Buy a Bioethicist? (Editorial)Some corporations have discovered that bioethics makes good public relations. (Sept. 28, 2001)
Two CheersPresident Bush's stem-cell decision is better than the fatal cure many sought. (August 10, 2001)
House Backs Human Cloning BanScientists say they'll go ahead anyway. (August 27, 2001)
Embryos Split ProlifersBush decision pleases some, keeps door open for disputed research. (August 27, 2001)
Weblog: Antinori Team Says, 'Send In the Clones'Cloning doctors reveal plans, insult everyone. (August 8, 2001)
House of Lords Legalizes Human Embryo CloningReligious leaders' protests go unheeded by lawmakers. (Feb. 2, 2001)
Britain Debates Cloning of Human EmbryosScientists want steady stream of stem cells for "therapeutic" purposes. (Nov. 22, 2000)
Tissue of Lies?Latest stem-cell research shows no urgent need to destroy human embryos for the cause of science. (Sept. 28, 2000)
Beyond the Impasse to What?Stem-cell research may not need human embryos after all. But why are we researching in the first place? (Aug. 18, 2000)
Thus Spoke SupermanTroubling language frames the stem-cell debate. (June 13, 2000)
Human Embryo Research Resisted (August 9, 1999)
Editorial: The Biotech Temptation (July 12, 1999)
Embryo Research Contested (May 24, 1999)
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