Christians Are Getting Upset about Cloning for the Wrong Reasons

Author Greg Koukl Published on 05/01/1997

In the movie, “The Boys from Brazil,” it was used to try to recreate Hitler. In “Jurassic Park,” it was employed to bring back an entire prehistoric era to life. In “Multiplicity,” Michael Keaton used it to try get twice as much work done and still have time to play golf.

This past year, the stuff of movies and science-fiction became reality. A sheep named Dolly was born that was an exact physical replica of a previously existing adult. Dolly has no father. She is the result of a “virgin” birth, a miracle of technology. Dolly is a clone.

Because the technology that produced Dolly could be theoretically applied to humans, the response from the public was immediate. A recent poll showed that 93% of Americans think that cloning humans is a bad idea, and 66% felt it was even a bad idea to clone animals. More than 50% said they wouldn’t even eat an animal that was a clone.

Martin Marty of the University of Chicago said, “Guarding what is left of human distinctiveness has to be at issue here.” Nigel Cameron, head of the Center for Bio-Ethics and Human Dignity at Trinity International University, said, “Part of our notion of human dignity is that we are different. Cloning of humans diminishes the dignity in all of us.”

A letter to the editor of the LA Times read, “It’s my body, my choice, right? But what if I want my body cloned and warehoused for spare parts? Upon what basis can government decide what I can or cannot do with my body? Will this be the same basis upon which abortion is legal? After all, my clone would be more of my personal body than a fetus is to its mother.”

Even President Clinton weighed in with an opinion. “Each human life is unique,” he said, “born of a miracle that reaches beyond laboratory science.... I believe we must respect this profound gift and resist the temptation to replicate ourselves.”

What Is Cloning?

Cloning can mean a couple of different things. In 1993, Dr. Jerry Hall and Dr. Robert Stillman, infertility researchers at George Washington University, successfully split a human zygote into two separate zygotes with the same genetic makeup, essentially the same process that occurs naturally with identical twins. They had created a clone, a second individual with the exact genetic blueprint of the first. Hall and Stillman didn’t have the technology to allow their “twins” to survive full term. The birth of Dolly, though, changed all that.

Dolly, the cloned lamb, was a very unique kind of twin. Her genetic double was an adult born years earlier. A team headed by Dr. Ian Wilmut, an embryologist at the Rosland Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, evacuated the genetic material from the ovum of a sheep. When the nucleus from a cell of an adult sheep was electrically fused to the egg, it developed normally into a fetus, and eventually into a lamb.

What is remarkable about Dolly is that this is the first time an animal has been cloned from an adult. It is also the first mammal that has no biological father. Dolly is a time-delayed twin.

Virtually all of the confusion about the morality of cloning can be clarified once we answer two very basic questions, one factual and one ethical. First, what manner of being does cloning produce? Is it human? Would it have a soul? Second, what are our moral obligations to a clone? Can we use clones to create a race of slaves or as a living warehouse of human parts?

What Does Cloning Produce?

Think of a clone as a twin. In 1993, Hall and Stillman did not create anything unusual. They artificially replicated the same process that happens all the time in nature: identical twinning. The process that produced Dolly was more complex, but the end result was the same.

Clones are no more exact copies than any two identical twins are. Twins are different persons with distinct bodies and souls and personalities. The only thing they share is the blueprint by which their physical bodies were built.

This is important. There seems to be a lot of confusion on this point. Cloning does not reproduce one’s self, but only an identical twin of one’s body. If you took one of your cells and cloned it, the result wouldn’t be another one of you, but rather a twin brother or sister. Identical twins have separate and distinct bodies. They also have distinct souls.

All creatures that normally possess souls would still have souls even when cloned. Sensations, thoughts, purposings, beliefs, and desires are all functions of a soul. A moment’s reflection will show that material objects are not the kinds of things that possess features like thoughts or intentions. My table has no desires. My computer has no beliefs.

If only souls have these qualities, then any creature that has sensations, thoughts, etc., must be ensouled, including animals. The historical view of the church has been that all sentient creatures have souls. Animals have a different kind of soul than we do—they’re not made in God’s image, nor do they seem to be able to survive the death of their bodies—but they have souls. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be alive.

Any time an additional human being is reproduced, regardless of the method, the result is a human being. It’s not a faux human being, a physical facade with nothing inside. A human clone would be a bona fide human being, and all humans have souls that bear God’s image.

Cloning is nothing more than another form of reproduction—asexual reproduction, similar to what happens whenever identical twins are conceived. A human being comes into being by a certain biological process. This process proceeds naturally forward through bisexual reproduction: intercourse and impregnation. The same biological result, though, can be accomplished through different mechanics—in vitro fertilization, implantation, for example, or cloning.

Whatever manipulations of technology are used to create a genuine human being, humans are still humans. Human genetic material fertilizing a human egg produces a human being. And all human beings have souls. This leads us to our second question, the one concerning our moral obligations.

What Makes Us Distinct and Valuable?

Having determined what a human clone is—a human being made in the image of God—the ethical questions become much easier to resolve. What seems to be at issue here for many is the question of human distinctiveness. Human beings are unique in some way, and that uniqueness gives them value. In what way are humans special?

If one is a physicalist and believes that the only things real are physical things, then reproducing an exact physical copy destroys the one claim to uniqueness anyone has: his body. If there were ten Mona Lisas instead of one, the one that hangs in the Louvre wouldn’t be priceless.

Christians are not physicalists, though. This is a very important point, striking at the heart of the biblical world view. The concern about the loss of human distinctiveness through cloning is evidence of a culture—and a church—that is profoundly influenced by physicalism.

What makes a human distinct, unique, and valuable has nothing to do with his physical body—neither its shape, its state of health, nor the manner in which it enters the world. It doesn’t matter how this “tent” is stitched together (to use the Apostle Paul’s metaphor), whether it is big or small, whether it is perfect or imperfect, or whether it was assembled by hand or by machine. Our nature—one made in the image of God—makes us different, not our bodies.

With that idea clearly in focus, the moral questions are much easier to sort out. Since all human beings bear God’s image, there is no moral difference between a child conceived the regular way and a child conceived through cloning. Since human cloning produces an identical twin, then our treatment of human clones must be guided by the same morality that applies to any other twin.

But won’t cloning make it possible to create a race of human slaves? That can be accomplished already without cloning technology. It’s called parenthood. Why can’t Mom and Dad use their children for slaves? The answer has nothing to do with how the children were conceived, but everything to do with what kind of beings they are. If children born through normal fertilization can’t be used for slaves or farmed for their body parts, then clones can’t be used for that purpose either.

If our laws and sense of moral obligation protect any human being from such abuse, then they are sufficient to protect human clones from such abuse. This, though, is both the solution and the problem.

The Real Dangers of Cloning

Melinda Penner has observed that God gave us both the ability to use technology and the moral rules to guide our progress. Our problem is that most of those who subdue God’s world are not submitted to God’s rules.

The threat of the “brave new world” is not technology—it isn’t cloning. The threat is in losing sight of what makes a human valuable. We crossed that bridge a long time ago. We entered the brave new world when we began to talk and live as if there is a human life that is not worthy of the respect and care it inherently deserves. This makes cloning dangerous for two reasons.

The first danger is that clones might be treated as less than human. The appropriate environment for a child is a family. Because of the unique origin of a child that is a clone, it will be tempting to claim she is truly a parentless child created by—and owned by—the scientist who simply assembled her biological parts.

To treat a human being merely as property is deeply immoral. A clone, then, must be a member of a family who cares for her and protects her just as they would any other child.

The second danger is that many human beings will be destroyed in the trial and error period required to perfect the process. The 48 embryos that Hall and Stillman eventually produced all perished. The Rosland Institute needed 400 implants to make Dolly. I have argued at length in other places that the unborn is a human person from the moment of conception. As soon as the unborn human comes into being, she is fully human in all relevant ways. This means that when any embryo perishes, a valuable human being has died.

Cloning experiments using embryos destined to perish are morally unacceptable. On one ethical level, they are no different than doing the same experiments on any other human person. This is the same factor that makes some forms of in vitro fertilization unethical.

I am not against cloning per se. It seems to me that the ethical question pertains not to the mechanics of making a baby, but to the way the baby will be treated during her life, from the moment of her conception through adulthood.

Whatever moral obligations apply to a child born the regular way, those same obligations—the rights, responsibilities, privileges, and values—also applies to any child conceived through reproductive technology, including cloning.

No person made in the image of God is illegitimate. All humans have value, regardless of how they came into the world, because each bears the imprint of God.