If you think the ethical questions raised by IVF are tough, you’ll be totally flummoxed by those raised by human cloning. Claims of human cloning have occurred sporadically since the turn of the 21st century, yet none of them has been substantiated – with one exception. Dr Panayiotis Zavos, a Greek Cypriot immigrant to the USA, may soon go down in history as the person responsible for the first ever successful human clone. He has so far made a number of unsuccessful attempts, but with each one, the knowledge gained is bringing him and his team a little closer to success. I have included some links at the end of this blog for those who wish to learn more about him and his very controversial work.
Dr Zavos is an enigmatic figure who proves yet again just how much truth is stranger than fiction. He is a practicing Greek Orthodox Christian, and he puts forward arguments based on Bible verses in support of his work, even though most Christians would disagree with both the work and his interpretation of the Bible. Having been blocked by the laws of Western countries, he moved his work to Beirut in Lebanon where there are no laws to prevent human cloning, and he even met with the spiritual leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon to get his ‘blessing’ on the work of human cloning.
What sets his efforts apart from the other unsubstantiated claims of human cloning by secretive doctors and strange cults is that Dr Zavos has allowed independent journalists and a film crew to document his progress. A documentary was recently aired on pay TV and leaves no doubt that he is doing exactly what he says he is. This is not enough for others in the medical profession, though, who insist that Dr Zavos must open his work to the scrutiny of his peers, and accuse him of being after nothing more than fame and glory and a mountain of cash. Dr Zavos in turn responds that fame is not on his agenda, and that he is motivated mainly by the desire to help couples for whom every other avenue for having a child has failed them. His choice of candidates for his technique would certainly support this claim.
But we are not her to judge Dr Zavos, but to assess the process of cloning a human being. First we must turn to the ethical problems with the technique as it stands today.
One of the major objections raised against human cloning is that the procedure damages the genetic information in the cells, resulting in a very high rate of deformed individuals. Dolly, the famous sheep who broke open Pandora’s Box when she was cloned from a six year old sheep in 1997, took no less than 277 attempts before her creators got it right. Many of those were deformed sheep that did not survive. We may be willing to accept that attrition rate for sheep, but have we the right to do that to human beings? Thus, Dr Zavos is criticised for trying to do this far too early. Let us wait, his critics say, until we have improved the technique using animals. Once we have got it right, we can think about using it on humans, but to attempt it now on humans is criminal.
Then there is the risk of abuse. Earlier I compared human cloning to nuclear power, maintaining that both are technologies with tremendous potential for both good and evil. The horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was so terrifying that no one has used a nuclear weapon in anger ever since. And yet, we still live in fear for we cannot be certain that some rogue state will one day break this taboo, with dreadful consequences. Human cloning too has the potential for dreadful consequences. What do you think of the following potential scenarios:
– A mother loses her 10 year old daughter in an accident. She saves a little of her daughter’s genetic material and has her cloned to ‘bring her back to life’ again.
– A laboratory clones a number of human beings but only allows them to grow to about 30 cells, never implanting them in a womb. They remove cells whenever they grow to 30 cells and use the removed cells for research. If you consider life to begin at conception, is this any way to treat a human being?
– A government decrees that the population needs to be ‘beautified’ or made smarter, and that henceforth, no natural children will be born, but only clones of the most beautiful or the most intelligent people.
– A caste of human clones is genetically engineered to be a servant class with very low IQ but large muscle bulk and stamina. The company that produces them rents them out for $20,000 per year (plus food and board, but only the most basic needs, since they are bred not to complain).
– Astronauts in weightless space have no need for legs – they use up energy and serve no purpose. Thus, NASA clones an astronaut race with no legs who can travel to far distant planets, happily living on spaceships for years with no legs.
– A billionaire realises he is getting old. He secretly clones himself ten times and locks up the clones in a hidden complex underground beneath his mansion. They are given only the most basic of their needs – food and water and warmth. They are not educated, they never learn to speak or understand speech, they never see the outside world. When the billionaire’s heart or liver or kidneys start to give out, he simply kills one of the clones and, hey presto! Instant perfect genetic match for a donor!
– Eventually, even the bank of identical organs can no longer keep the billionaire alive. His body is just too old. So he attempts a radically new procedure: he has his brain transplanted into the healthiest of the young clones, effectively giving himself another lifetime on the earth. If it succeeds, there may be no limit to how many times he may be able to jump into a new body, genetically, his own body.
Some of these scenarios are still science fiction, but some are possible today. The first one is the actual profile of one of Dr Zavos’ patients, and the second scenario is a reality right now in South Korea. The disturbing thing is that even the most fantastic of them may be a real possibility within the lifetime of people alive today.
Are we really mature enough as a human race to handle this kind of power? What will it do to the nature of our society, our families, and our relationships? If you cloned yourself, would the resultant human being be your brother or your son? What is the legal status of a clone? What inheritance rights would it enjoy over its donor? What are the psychological effects of being brought up by your genetic twin? How will the family unit be affected if cloning becomes widespread, and what effect will this have on society as a whole? We know that identical twins are more likely to suffer from heart disease and diabetes than non-identical twins: will there be increased health risks for clones? What about the danger of creating distinct classes in society based on genetics: what if we end up with a super race that considers all other humans their inferiors and servants? Are we willing to give up on the principle of the equality of all human beings?
The deepest of these questions lead us to ask perhaps the most basic question of all: what is it that makes a human being? Is it just the physical body, including its unique set of genes? Is it the experiences they go through in life, which have little to do with genes? And what about the unique spirit that God gives to each individual at conception: can it be transferred from one body to another as in the case of the brain transplant mentioned above? Is the spirit of a person linked to their genes, or their brain?
Should we clone human beings simply because we can? There are those who would say that human cloning is inevitable and it is foolish to think it can be stopped, as foolish as believing that one day all nations will destroy their nuclear weapons. If they are right, then we who are Christians need to come to grips with this bamboozling situation. Indeed, the whole world needs to, and fairly soon, too.
In the last blog under this topic I will survey what various religions have said about human cloning and then bravely attempt to address some of these moral and ethical questions, and try to at least point the way to some possible answers.
Links to info on Dr Zavos and his attempts to clone a human being:
3 Replies to “IVF and Cloning Part 2”
The question is asked as to whether an individuals spirit is linked to his genes or his brain. If linked to his genes, then identical twins will have the same spirit and be subject to the same judgements. We know that not to be the case. Identical twins may be genetiaclly the same, however they are two separate people who are judged on their own actions and their own thoughts, therefore it can only be possible that a persons spirit is linked to his own brain. The same can then be said about genetically identical clones.
The scenario of the mother with a dead daughter is a common one brought up in the cloning debates. However, even if her daughter is cloned, there is no guarantee that the product will be identical to her daughter in every way because the clone will have its own spirit.
I saw a story once of a woman who cloned her cat who had died. To her surprise, the cloned cat was of different fur colour and of different temperament and personality to the original, even though it was genetically identical. So why can’t the same be said about the cloned daughter?
Genetically identical or not, she would not be ‘bringing her back to life’, neither will she necessarily look and act the same or have the same talents because she would have a different distinct spirit. The spirit of the daughter will not re-enter the clone!
When you think about it, Eve must have been a genetic clone of Adam since she was formed out of Adam’s rib. Although she was not only a separate person who was reprimanded separately for her actions in the garden, she was a female while her original source from which she was formed was a male. So even though a clone may be genetically identical to its original source, it will not be the same person, neither will it necessarily look or act the same.
At the end of the day, God is the sole life giver, if he has no intentions for cloning to be explored then it wouldn’t matter how far this Dr Zavos went in his research, it wouldn’t matter how many years he spent and how much money he put into it, all his time will be spent in vain. If God does not decide to give the clone in the petri dish the breath of life and give it a spirit then the science will always and forever be unsuccessful. That’s the bottom line.
And do we have so litte faith in human nature to think these fantasiful scenarios would ever be explored if cloning ever became possible?
I guess what we have to do is put ourselves in the shoes of people that this science would benefit.
If you had an ill child who has had numerous failed organ transplants would you not want to do all you could to help him? If the possibility of cloning him in order to take the clones organs is possible (as long as doing so does not kill the clone and is to take an organ like a kidney or lung or liver portion after which the clone could survive) wouldn’t you want to explore that?
If you are a childless couple who could also benefit would you not want to try cloning if other attempts through IVF had been unsuccessful? The clone should be given the legal status of a child, it will have its own spirit not attached to its genes. What is the issue with being formed from the genetic material of one person? Genetically, Jesus would have been identical to his Virgin mother, and yet we call him her son, not her brother.
One other thing I want to mention that was written in the previous blog regarding a couple using sperm or ova from an outside individual being regarded as adultery, I know this is the position of the Church and I can understand why; since the child is from outside the marriage. But isn’t adultery in the act not the product? If a child is born outside of wedlock we do not condemn the child as a bastard child and he is still accepted into the Church. It is the act that is condemned and must be repented of.
But what if the act does not actually occur and the child who may genetically be of different mother or father from outside the marriage is born inside the marriage from the wedded mother through IVF? Why is that considered adultery?
Abraham conceived Ismael through Hagar with his wife Sarah’s permission. When God reprimanded him there was no talk of adultery, only that he had not trusted in God that he would provide him with an heir in good time.
Is that not the same thing? If a couple wants a child but one is sterile or barren as was Abraham’s wife Sarah, is it then adultery if they both agree and give each other permission to use somebody else from outside their marriage so they could both have a child, as Sarah gave her husband permission to conceive an heir through Hagar? Food for thought I guess…and I am sure if any of us wanted children but couldn’t have them we would want to explore using an outside sperm or egg donor…
“At the end of the day, God is the sole life giver, if he has no intentions for cloning to be explored then it wouldn’t matter how far this Dr Zavos went in his research, it wouldn’t matter how many years he spent and how much money he put into it, all his time will be spent in vain. If God does not decide to give the clone in the petri dish the breath of life and give it a spirit then the science will always and forever be unsuccessful. That’s the bottom line.”
I was just thinking the same thing!