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To Clone or Not To Clone?

by Bishop F.B. Henry of Canada

The Lord has given the human race delegated dominion over the world and its non-human inhabitants (cf. Genesis 1:26-28). Scripture scholars tell us that the proper rendering of "subdue the earth" should not be understood as over-coming, dominating and exploiting it as a triumphant army but rather in the sense of cultivating and developing it. This mission entrusted to Adam and Eve, of course, continues today and in some ways the technical progress born of scientific discoveries helps us to solve some very serious problems. Examples readily come to mind: the use of genetically modified E coli bacteria to produce human insulin, human growth hormone, and interferon which can be used in the treatment of certain viral diseases. In each case, the human genes which, respectively, control the synthesis of insulin, growth hormone, and interferon had to be identified, isolated and then introduced into the genome of the selected bacteria.

Other genetically modified plants and animals have been produced to meet some specific need: for example, specific plants have been genetically modified so that they can resist freezing or insect infestation more readily, or can produce more yield per pound of seed or acre of land. The improvement of the quality and quantity of food sources and their products can be achieved by modifying the growing conditions of plants and by carefully planning breeding programs.

While abuse is possible in this field, as in any human endeavour, a disproportionate fear should not lead to the stifling of genetic research with life below humans on the evolutionary scale. Ultimately such research and development are part of the process by which the human race exercises its God-given dominion over the earth. In turn, the delegated dominion is not merely to give humans a more comfortable life, but it is to give glory to God by acknowledging that his gifts come to us through nature.

Nevertheless, I experienced real fear when I learned recently that embryologist, Dr. Ian Wilmut, and his colleagues had managed to create a frisky lamb named "Dolly" from a cell in an adult ewe's mammary gland. Unlike offspring produced in the usual fashion, Dolly does not merely take after her biological mother. She is a carbon copy, a laboratory counterfeit so exact that she is in essence her mother's identical twin.

On the one hand, the ability to clone an adult mammal opens up exciting possibilities, from propagating endangered species to reproducing replacement organs for transplant patients without the danger of rejection. Further advances might also be made in agriculture as dairy farmers could clone their champion cows, making it possible to produce more milk from smaller herds.

On the other hand, the cloning of animals is only a short step removed from cloning of human beings. Herein lies my fear. The biological techniques that have led to the cloning of animals can also apparently be applied to humans so that there might one day be individuals who have no parents or who could be engendered to fulfill arbitrary criteria or subject to the desires of those would manipulate them into existence.

I would argue that human cloning or parthenogenesis is contrary to the moral law, since it is in opposition to the dignity both of human procreation and of the conjugal union. Even if the motivation be noble, a child should only be conceived within the bonds of marriage and not in a laboratory. Such a stance should not be interpreted as opposition to science or as a brake on progress, but as safeguarding those values which constitute the human being and its existence. Children have a right to be born and reared within a loving family, even if that is often not realized. Science must be guided by ethical criteria.

Dr. Wilmot has said that the technique should not be used on human beings and maintains that the procedure for cloning humans should be made universally illegal. The passage of laws against such practices is critically important but the instilling in the general population of a sense of moral revulsion at such acts is even more important.

There would be a whole host of other ethical considerations following upon social acceptance and general availability of human cloning. For example: Who would be cloned? Who would make the selection? The government? Private Individuals? Special agencies set up for this purpose? What criteria for selection would be employed, and how would these be determined? What would be done with the "mistakes"? What impact would there be on the self-identity of individual clones by the presence of multiple copies of the individual clones? How would one determine the negative impact on the human gene pool?

It will be up to science to determine if human cloning can be done. It is up to the rest of us to determine if it should be done. I'm absolutely against it!

✚  F. B. Henry

Bishop of Calgary.

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