The Problems with Human Cloning

By: T. M. Moore; ©2003
Most people aren’t quite sure what to make of the prospect of “engineering” human beings, although they are a little troubled by the thought. Writing from a biblical and Christian viewpoint, T. M. Moore points out three problems associated with the human cloning project.

Introduction

All the talk in recent years about the possibility of cloning human beings has everyone a little unsettled. Even those most enthusiastic about the project speak in cautious, albeit hopeful and optimistic, terms. Most folks aren’t quite sure what to make of the prospect of “engineering” human beings, although they are a little troubled by the thought, while not a few are very concerned, and some even outraged, over the very idea.

It’s good that there is a certain amount of tension in the air over the subject of human cloning, for in many ways it seems we may be about to rush in to something without giving adequate consideration of the ethical, moral, and even spiritual aspects of the proposal. It’s one thing to clone a sheep, or a pig. We’re accustomed to the idea of manipulating the

genes and jeopardizing the well being of beasts for the sake of possibly improving the lot of human beings. It’s another thing to be talking about creating new people out of select gene pools for what can often sound like rather elitist purposes. Alarming terms such as “eugen­ics” and “master race” spring to mind.

From a Biblical and Christian point of view there are at least three problems associated with the human cloning project. The prospect of engineering new human beings out of existing gene banks raises serious red flags in three important areas.

The hubris of science

First is the area of scientific hubris. Following the flood the Lord, surveying the arrogant attempt of fallen men to build a city and tower to celebrate their own technological genius and ability, lamented that, having begun on such a hubristic path, humans would not be restrained to do whatever their fertile—albeit fallen—imaginations might concoct (Gen. 11:6). Modern science has often proceeded on the idea “if we can do it, we may, and probably even should.” That kind of thinking has produced many of the marvels and won­ders of modern science and technology; it has also contributed to the pollution of the envi­ronment, growing stockpiles of hazardous waste, and the threat to the continuation of civilization itself posed by the existence, and growing proliferation of, weapons of mass destruction. It borders on the realm of presumed omniscience, the kind of attitude that says, “We’re scientists, and we know what we’re doing; we don’t have to listen to anybody other than ourselves.” Yet such a prerogative surely belongs to God alone.

At present a lively discussion is underway over the ethical, moral, and spiritual implica­tions of human cloning. Just because the technology is available—or, at least, nearly available—does not mean scientists should rush to do something the ramifications of which we have not carefully considered through thoughtful, patient discussions in the public square. President Bush was wise, in the summer of 2001, to set the brakes of the engine of the human cloning industry before it accelerated to runaway speed on a downhill curve with disaster as a very real possible outcome.

But the pressure on scientists and labs to be “the first” in scientific discovery has led many technicians to take their research and experimentation to other venues, beyond the reach of Uncle Sam (or Uncle George). Our American culture has, in the past, rewarded the pride-driven efforts of scientists to be the first on their block with some new discovery or other. We award lavish prizes, put people’s faces on the cover of news magazines, cel­ebrate them in the schools of the land, and otherwise make every effort to make them household names. What informed American does not know the names of people like Einstein, Pauling, Crick and Watson, and Hawking? Perhaps we should consider coming up with a prize for scientific restraint, awarding those scientists with the Mantle of Wisdom, let’s say, who, after hearing the opinions of sociologists, ethicists, and theologians (among others) determine that their current research project is better off left incomplete.

Human reductionism

The second problem area, from a Biblical and Christian perspective, relates to the view of human beings that pervades and drives the human cloning project. Years of animal experimentation in the development of drugs and treatments have solidified in the minds of many people that humans are just like animals, only a little more complex (all those feel­ings and stuff). We’ve been conditioned to believe that if we can make this thing work with animals then it’s probably safe, if not outright good, for humans. That’s why we sent mon­keys up in space capsules before humans, and why we study lab rats to figure out how to produce happier and more obedient children. I’m not endorsing this practice across the board, mind you, just commenting on its ubiquity and general acceptance as a pathway for applying the knowledge and technologies of science to questions of human well being.

In the minds of many of our contemporaries cloning humans should be no problem once scientists have proven that we can clone animals safely and with beneficial results. But for Christians this is a serious problem, for we understand the Scriptures to teach that human beings are not simply advanced animals; they are the image-bearers of God, and whatever else that means, it is a designation unique to human beings, one that animals do not share (Gen. 1:26-28). As the image-bearers of God certainly we would expect some kinds of deference, some deeper considerations to be given before we apply the fruit of animal research directly to human beings and communities. The reductionist approach of modern evolutionary science to the question of the nature of human beings has, as recently as the last century, led to human disaster on a massive scale. Tyrants of many stripes, having reduced certain humans to a sub-human level—if only because of ethnic, philosophical, or religious differences—felt no qualms about systematically eradicating those people who had been reduced to sub-human status by their particular worldview. It is not hard to imag­ine that cloned human beings—for example, some that might “go wrong” —could be easily disposed of, like lab rats, or that certain types of human beings, because of “deficient gene pools” (or whatever), might be disqualified from cloning. And, hey, if they aren’t worth cloning for the betterment of humankind, then what good are they? I recall Francis Schaeffer’s chilling observation regarding the straight line from abortion to euthanasia of the elderly to culling the population for whatever reason: “If the fetus gets in the way, ditch it. If the old person gets in the way, ditch it. If you get in the way…”

Human degradation and devaluation

Finally, the problem of human reductionism leads to the degradation and devaluation of human life. If the human being amounts to little more than a shopping mall of genes, available on demand for the future betterment of the race, then the genes are more impor­tant than any individual carrier thereof. There are scientists today who insist that every­thing about us, everything we think, do, are, aspire to, or become, is determined by our genes. Find the right genes, the best genes, and learn to control and combine them, and you can make life better for someone…or for their gene pool. It would be easy to lose sight of the forest (the human person) for the sake of the trees (the genes) in such a situation, and we would be back to classifying people by recognizable gene traits—like color of skin or eyes, shape of skull, ability to reason, or whatever anybody in authority determined to be the desirable traits. People would no longer matter, just traits—just as the young people Hitler rounded up for his breeding camps did not matter as individuals, only as possible conveyors of better genes for the future realization of the “master race.”

Further, the fixation on genes can lead us to believe that things like affections, minds, and consciences—the very stuff of the soul (1 Tim. 1:5)—do not exist, and, thus, need not be taken seriously in seeking to solve problems relevant to the human situation. When everything can be reduced to genes, we don’t need such archaic and useless notions as compassion, self-control, aesthetic delight, forgiveness, love, and the like. All we need are better genes. We’ll figure out how to make those genes available—perhaps in gelcaps or chewable tablets—and you’ll be better in no time! And if such “gene therapies” don’t seem to take hold in you, well then, it’s apparent you are beyond help. Your gene pool can’t be improved. We’ll therefore have to rethink your status, what “class” of human—or sub­human—you might be. And then…

If human beings are not the image-bearers of God, if they are only animals, to be ma­nipulated, improved, refined, and, yes, cloned, then there is no reason to think that any of those notions of “humanity,” “humaneness,” or “human-kindness,” ideas that had their origins in the days when we thought otherwise about the kind of beings people are, should have any more utility in the brave new world we are creating.

Which makes it extremely important that Christians not sit out the current debate about cloning. The hubris of science and the momentum of an evolutionary age are stoking the boilers of the cloning industry, and the engine is building steam for a full-speed-ahead-no­holds-barred plunge over the cliff and into the abyss of postmodern anthropology. For now, the brakes are set. But the present engineer won’t always be in the cabin. The time for Christians to be speaking and working for a change in the consensus of thinking about cloning is now, and, as a former president once asked of his cabinet, “If not us, who; if not now, when?”

(T. M. Moore is a Fellow of the Wilberforce Forum and Pastor of Teaching Ministries at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, TN. His latest books are A Mighty For­tress (Christian Focus, 2003) and Redeeming Pop Culture (P & R, 2003). He is the general editor of the series, Jonathan Edwards for Today’s Reader (P & R). He and his wife, Susie, live in Concord, TN.)

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