Life with Borders

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It’s already too late to start debating whether or not scientists should clone a mammal. As is commonly known, that is precisely what scientists did in Scotland back in 1997 when they cloned an adult sheep named “Dolly.”

Dolly’s clone was not easily conceived, for it took researchers 277 attempts before they produced 29 embryos that survived longer than six days. Even then, only one lamb was born as a result! And here is where the ethical implications begin to appear, for if a similar ratio of human embryos were used in an attempted human cloning, the loss of human life would be morally unconscionable.

Life cannot be thought of as a toy—something to be played with in a completely unstructured way. Life is not something that humans may create or discard at will, as if life had no significance either to the new creation itself or to God. When we deal with life our responsibility and level of accountability to God greatly increases.

For example, when doctors bring together the sperm and eggs of a donor couple who had stored them for the future, only to discard some of the fertilized eggs that were not used for implantation in the womb, another moral problem appears. Once fertilized, these unused embryos are not junk or trash which can be tossed aside; they are new lives, for which their responsible procreators, we here argue, must give an account to God.

But that would only be the start of other theological questions that have been raised regarding cloning humans. Common questions often involve issues of the soul and the transfer of original sin. For example, would the clone have a soul? And, if so, how does that soul relate to the one from whom the individual was cloned? Furthermore, how would the sinful nature be communicated or passed on, if at all, to the clone? In the Traducian view of the origin of the soul (presuming our clone has a soul), sin is passed through the seed of the parents. But, when two parents are lacking, and all of the clone’s DNA comes from a single donor, would that be sufficient to communicate the same sin as would have come through the seed of the parents? Perhaps a Creationist view of the origin of the soul may be easier to square with the life of the clone.

Are such theological questions needlessly posited if we consider similarities with identical twins, who also come from the same divided, fertilized egg, and have the same DNA? Regardless, it is still important that such theological considerations be raised amidst any discussion of moral deliberation, for they could have a serious impact on whether scientists in our day should even attempt the task of human cloning. While we may have no difficulty rejecting the desire to clone humans as immoral, questions about moral boundaries are not always simply or easily answered.

Consider that there is no doubt that recombinant DNA (rDNA), also known as gene-splitting, has been a great benefit to humanity and has led to new genetically engineered organisms and new genetic processes that come to the rescue for some diseases and environmental issues. In recognition of this work, the United States Supreme Court has ruled, however, that such new creations can be patented. This has led to the creation of forms of artificial human growth hormones, insulin, interferon, improvements in the genetic strains of agricultural plants, and even the production of microorganisms for industrial use to dissolve oil spills and reduce frost on plants. At one point I had noted over twelve thousand patents had been issued since 1981, which, I am sure in a field this dynamic has grown way beyond that number.

But along with these remarkable achievements must come a question about the possible patenting of creation and ultimately life itself: If life is the creation of God, and not one that is effected by mortals, should the U.S. Patent Office grant patents for such new forms of life if God made life itself in the first place?

All of these successes, of course, are great causes for thanksgiving for the results that come from the hands and minds of humans, but on some of these issues, the question of moral boundaries still lies ahead of all our research. When must we say “stop” in our research? When all this research first began, scientists were so frightened at one point that they called a halt to their work for a short time. Will such a time arise again, and who or what will determine that we have reached that border?

All this calls for more dialog and conversation.