What are the Different Religious Approaches to Human Cloning?
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Biomedical sciences have made not only important advances for mankind, in addition, their research and experimentation have brought about heated debates touching on what “we” hold dear, and that is: our humanity. Cloning is definitely one of the hot topics. The general public is more worried about the “cloned” twin rather than asking themselves if science can really bring human cloning to practice. In today’s society, we know that Dolly, the cloned sheep, is dead but does the “possibility” still exist and refer to human cloning. If states around the world have already made legislation against cloning, what fears remain? What voices are raised to answer these questions so dear to all of us? In this paper, I will discuss the different religious approaches to human cloning, and view in detail if they are preserving the concept of human dignity.
Definition of cloning
To clarify, cloning is a reproductive technology that not only removes, the insemination and fertilization of a couple, but it also excludes the partner from the complete procedure of reproduction. Its alleged advantages are eugenic in spirit: “removal of deleterious genetic material from the gene pool, and programming the genotype in such a way as to maximize certain desirable traits-e.g. intelligence, creativity, artistic ability”
There are some people that judge the procedures of cloning as moral in stipulations of its consequences, such as Joseph Fletcher. This because, if controlling reproduction would help improve the intelligence of a human being, this would in a future help solve the problems the human world is facing nowadays. In today’s society, many are suspicious that there might be “something inhumane”2 in the science laboratory where human cloning is practiced, but it is definite that “man is a maker and a selector and a designer, and the more rationally contrived and deliberate anything is, the human it is” 3. From this statement, one can come to the conclusion that, “laboratory reproduction is radically human compared to conception by ordinary heterosexual intercourse. It is willed, chosen, purposed and controlled, and surely they are among the traits that distinguish Homo sapiens from others in the animal genus” 4. Numerous questions are asked on the subject matter of human cloning, such as: “Will cloning really help improve the problems in our society by creating smarter clones? What determines an “improved human”? Why is cloning still practiced, if it is shown to destroy certain important human values, such as: parenthood, marriage, and the family? These are the questions that not only are asked in the society we live in now, but will continue to be asked for decades as technology will become increasingly more sophisticated.
In today’s society, the use of cloning is seen more often like a commercialized reproduction. This meaning that sexual reproduction is being replaced by new commercialized reproduction, this rotating around a sale of desired genotypes. Many critics were concerned by the appearance of unauthentic websites that would offer cloned copies of famous celebrities. One might think that mass commercialized reproduction is not possible, but what is shown on those spurious websites may easily occur in today’s society. A clone can be formed by virtually any integral diploid body cell, for example deriving from a blood spot or also a hair follicle. The fear some critics are facing is that these new reproductive technologies might be used without using the reproductive privacy and the un-consented use of ones genome. Critics fear that with the use of reproductive cloning, people throughout the world might abandon what is seen to be normal parenting and rely further on this new form of reproductive technology.
“The term “therapeutic cloning”, is used to deceive the general public into believing that human cloning is acceptable and beneficial”5, whether “Therapeutic” or not, it is done in the following manner:
First of all, scientists obtain DNA from any cell in the body that is not a germ cell, “sperm” or “egg”. This cell taken from the DNA is called somatic cell (a cell containing two copies of each of the genes that make up a person, also known as diploid), whereas germ cells contain only one reproduction of each of the genes of a person (diploid). The Diploid DNA is then inserted from the somatic cell into the human egg cell. This procedure is also known as SCNT, which means somatic cell nuclear transfer. After this transfer occurs the egg becomes diploid, in other words it now contains two DNA traits, which are essential for the formation of a human being; and becomes an embryo.
At this point one might ask how it is possible to form a human life without uniting the sperm with the egg. In a standard process of fertilization and embryo formation, the egg and sperm cells have less than one copy of the DNA essential for the formation of a entirely functional human being. The definition of fertilization is, “the process of union of two gametes whereby the somatic chromosome number is restored and the development of a new individual is initiated”6. When speaking scientifically, it can be said the a new individual is created at the point when fertilization occurs, this meaning that the somatic chromosome number is restored, by doing so it would form a fertilized egg, also know as an “embryo”.
Asexual human reproduction
Asexual reproduction produces in the majority of the cases a realistic genetic continuation. The offspring of a single cell that is formed asexually is called a clone; the particular strand that forms a clone is that all of its individuals are the same.
When talking about reproduction, it can be said that it is in most cases a result involving the joint venture of specialized germ cell, sperm and eggs; and it is the egg itself that has the job of transforming into an established being.
Asexual reproduction has been first discovered in the organisms found in certain plants. Recently, however, it had been proved that it is not possible to create this form of asexual formation on more complex animals. With the development of nuclear transplantation, a new form of asexual reproduction has been formed. This is possible because it is based upon the theory that each nucleus present in every cell of an adult organism is believed to contain the entire genetic complement of that organism. This meaning that the nucleus found within the intestinal cell is genetically identical to that of a fertilized egg that helped the upbringing of that specific adult. There have been attempts so far on the asexual reproduction of mammals, but without much success. But it is shown that the problems are technical and not basic. The introduction of the nuclear transplant into the much smaller volume egg is most probably to be far more intricate than that of the amphibian. There have also been attempts to introduce the nucleus by cellular fusion, but the results have not been positive for the scientists, because of the complex process of perforating the egg layers. The leap from asexual reproduction of a plant to a human appears almost as if someone is jumping from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other. If it is scientifically possible, is it also morally admissible?
Definition of dignity
The key source of the debate centers on human dignity therefore I included a definition for this particular debate: “Human dignity is an expression that can be used as a moral concept or as a legal term. Sometimes it means no more than that human beings should not be treated as objects. Beyond this, it is meant to convey an idea of absolute and inherent worth. In Kant’s philosophy, the claim is made that rational beings have an intrinsic and absolute value, which is referred to as dignity”7. Most religious traditions translate dignity as sanctity or holiness meaning, life is a gift from a loving God not a possesion.
Religious views on human cloning and dignity: Islam
According to the Islamic religion God, had created man and woman through the “divine intervention”, once Adam and Eve were created, the procreation of human life occurred naturally, that has been looked over by God himself. This meaning, that according to the Quran, the original act of reproduction occurred naturally, through a holy work of creation, which cannot be replaced. There is a verse in the Quran that highlights in detail on the action of procreation: “Mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, And from it created its mate, And from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women.” 8 Consequently, one can determine that according to the Islamic religion, God has divinely given all life to the world, and only He can take life away. The Quran also referrers to the serious condemnation that is imposed on people that believe that life can be given to the world without the divine intervention of God.
The dignity of man in Islam has already been pointed out, even though in a marginal method. The human being is a creation of the Lord, which was formed under the divine intervention, and according to the Quran, God thought he did a good job in the creation of the human life; this signifying that man is untouchable. Man is carrier of God’s spirit, and by altering its genetics; it is no longer a creation of God, thus altering also the Lord’s spirit. According to Islam, and in conclusion to the views of the Lord, it can be said that only he has been given the power of reason. He is the only One who can be punished or held responsible for the creation of human life.
The Pali Buddhist would approach the ethical issue of human cloning in three distinct traditions:
1. Questioning the motives of the cloners
Human cloning involves intentional human action: do we classify the action as “skillful” or “unskillful”, “good” or “bad”?
2. Protecting the interest of the cloned
Buddhists are committed to treat all sentient beings with “metta” (love and kindness). From this derives an analysis that overlaps with the European rights/ interests/expectations approach. Will a cloned human get less “metta” than a standard issue human?
3. Is the cloning process itself ethically flawed?
“Would human cloning weaken the institutions- such as the family- on which human flourishing depends? Or would it interfere with natural process -such as karma- on which the flourishing of all sentient beings depends?” 9
According to the Buddhist religion, nothing is ever the same; nothing can occur exactly the same more than once. This is why a human being cannot predict all the motives of a scientist working on cloning. Why would a person and what are his reasons to create a clone of himself? And why not form the clone of a famous politician or a person that changed history? These questions can only be answered subjectively, without a correct or incorrect answer.
It is not simple to find criteria that might help sustain the interests of the cloned, but the major question asked is probably: “will a clone face more problems than an orphan child, step- children and or adopted children that live in today’s society?” The Buddhist think that it is a more urgent task to abolish weapon trade in the world, that is causing the suffering of thousands, than to worry about the moral task of human cloning.
It is certain that human life would change drastically if cloning was to become more frequent, but it is not said that this change had to be seen in the negative. David Daube, in a 1971 conference in Washington D.C. proposed this topic: “Imagine we live in a world where all births are test-tube births. What would our reaction be if somebody suggested the introduction of sex procreation?” 10 This might help the people of today’s society to think of what advantages a clone could bring, such as a more equal society, with more indisputable moral care. Also, what would be the future of a “human relationship of love as expressed in a marriage?”
In order to understand the Jewish viewpoint, a religion founded two millennia ago; on the ethics of human cloning one must look deeply and comprehend the fundamentals of the Old Testament and the Traditional Jewish ethics: this knowledge gives the basis of the Jewish point of view on this particular subject matter. The Jewish ethics are mainly represented in two main books; also know as the Hebrew Bible, or Tenach, and the Talmud. The Talmud answers to the Halacha, on the daily ethical problems. All therapeutic issues are grounded in the belief of piku’ach nefresh, which in English is the equivalent of saying rescue of a soul, saving a life. According to the Jewish religion, when a human being is in a life-threatening situation, even during the Sabbath, purity, or any other rituals, life is more important than any sacred taboo. Helping understand that this particular religion, believes that the life of a human being, is of a great importance, that almost as if holy. When talking about the ethical principles for the issues of human cloning, it can be said that the Jewish followers, are extremely open-minded on the matter.
This interference into the germ route and the handling of the future in the hands of science, is probably the newest level in biotechnology, and is the world’s ethical and religious taboo. The Jewish believe that when scientists interfere in changing the gene structure it is only to improve creation, and not in any way harming society, but only empowering it. This is also seen as not going in contrast with God’s divine creation, but only helping to fulfill the divine commandment. The Jewish though when referring to cloning, want the “the dignity of every human being” 11 to be protected. This religious group is against the use of cloning for the creation of an organ donor, in case something happens to the original human being. A clone if created to become a normal human being like all human life on the earth, with the same rights, freedom and autonomy, then it is considered positive to continue this scientific operation: “Cloning, like all other technologies, is morally neutral. Its moral valence depends on how we use it”12. Thus, the Jewish point of view on this matter is that, medical advancements, if used to “help” human kind are always seen as a blessing. All the risks are justified, in light of the benefit this can cause to the human race. It is not clear however if current biotechnology in the area of cloning is available and understandable to the consumer knowledge let alone the rabbis.
The Christian religion has a particular perspective on the subject of human cloning and dignity, “In Judeo-Christian terms, every human is an image of God”13. According to recent philosophy; in particular that of Immanuel Kant the term person is used to express an end in itself. The Christian church, believes that in the second a human life form begins existing, it must be recognized as a person. Therefore every human being is considered a person. Some current views state that to be a person one must have certain characteristics, “like reason, self-awareness, a relationship to one’s biography”. Not all humans meet their requirements, as for example the mentally disabled, or small children, as well as in some cases the elderly. The Christian religion however, believes that there is a strong relationship between a human and a person. So the question one must ask himself is if cloning is really tied with the qualities a real human being has. An argument that goes against cloning may be that the distinctiveness cannot be violated by a clone, which has the same DNA consistency. Hans Jonas stated that, once a clone is created, he would have to live a life already knowing what is going to occur in his existence with the years passing by. For example the clone will know if he will inherit a disease simply by looking at the original human being. This influencing negatively the life of the clone, which might decide to change his being, simply because he does not want to resemble the human’s existence.
There is another point that might go against human cloning, and that is of the manipulation of the self-identity of a human being. No human should be able to know why his genetic strands are created the way they are, while clones know exactly who and why created them. According to Robert Spaemann, “in vitro fertilization- is “forcing” a human into existence”15. In conclusion, it can be said that according to the Christian religion, with the creation of genetic manipulation, a person is predestined to have certain characteristics that cannot be altered or undone, and as a result going against the beliefs of this religion.
In the society we live in today, 83% of the human race believes in a religious tradition. Religious beliefs most certainly guide, direct and redirect the dialogue about the advances in biotechnology, especially this specific topic of human cloning. In the past, medicine used to be linked and associated with religion. Now, just to rely on science, instead of considering the “whole person” and his/her beliefs in the scientist would be remiss. If we now are advancing in knowledge to make life better for all, what legacy does cloning give us if the dialogue and research happen only in the laboratory? The need to carefully consider religious beliefs is most important. Besides, there have been no successfully cloned animals since Dolly. Any advances in cloning need to consider the fact of human dignity. The need for both faith and reason to guide advancement of the theory of cloning is important because maybe cloning plants for vaccines may lead to better health for all. However, it seems unnecessary to clone the human person.
Coxon, A.”Cloning Runs Counter to Christian Beliefs”, Medical Ethics,
Thomson Gale (ed.) Farmington Hills, MI, 2005.
Fletcher, J.”Asexual reproduction”, in W.T Reich (ed.) Encyclopedia of bioethics, The Free Press Macmillan Company, New York, 1978.
Huxley, A. “The Pali Buddhist Approach to Human Cloning” Human dignity and human cloning, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Koninklijke Brill NV, 2004.
McCormick, R.”Asexual reproduction”, in W.T Reich (ed.) Encyclopedia of bioethics, The Free Press Macmillan Company, New York, 1978.
Oeming, M. “The Jewish Perspective in Cloning”, Human dignity and human cloning, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Koninklijke Brill NV, 2004.
Spaemann, R. “Christian and Western Philosophy”, Human dignity and human cloning, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Koninklijke Brill NV, 2004.
The Holy Quran, Chapter 5, Verses 1-3, translated to English.
1 Richard A. McCormick, “Asexual reproduction”, in W.T Reich (ed.) Encyclopedia of bioethics, The Free Press Macmillan Company, New York, 1978, p. 1462
2 ibid, p. 1462
3 Joseph Fletcher, ibid p. 1462
4 ibid, p. 1462
5 Amy Coxon, “Cloning Runs Counter to Christian Beliefs”, Medical Ethics, Thomson Gale (ed.) Farmington Hills, MI, 2005, p.160
6 ibid, p.162
8 The Holy QU RAN, Chapter 5, Verses 1-3, translated to English
9 Andrew Huxley, “The Pali Buddhist Approach to Human Cloning” Human dignity and human cloning, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Koninklijke Brill NV, 2004, p. 13
10 David Daube, ibid. p. 18
11 Manfred Oeming, “The Jewish Perspective in Cloning”, ibid, p. 43
12 E. Dorff, http://mishkantorah.org /parasha/
13 Robert Spaemann, “Christian and Western Philosophy”, Human dignity and human cloning, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Koninklijke Brill NV, 2004, p. 47
14 ibid, p. 48
15 ibid, p.50