Bill Muehlenberg

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, IVP, 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 reason 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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