We have seen that cloning raises some incredibly difficult ethical and moral questions. But before we attempt to address them, it may be helpful to look at things from the perspective of the infertile parent, and also to survey various religious positions on the matter.
It is important to appreciate that these are not just hypothetical questions that people in ivory towers can enjoy discussing over a nice cup of tea. They are questions that influence the lives of many people, real living people. I have encountered couples dealing with infertility, and I can assure you, it is no small matter. Until you have gone through the experience yourself, I don’t think you can really understand what it means to be denied the chance of having your own children. In the Bible, it was considered a terrible curse, a cause of shame and social ridicule, and perhaps even a sign of God’s disfavour. Just think of Hannah the mother of Samuel crying soundless prayers of desperation in the temple, or Sarah the wife of Abraham and Elizabeth the wife of Zechariah. We no longer see infertility as a sign of God’s anger, just as we no longer see disease of any kind in this light. But the personal, emotional and psychological damage it does is still tremendous.
So anything that can help to bring about a child for a childless couple is worth taking very, very seriously. Here, if anywhere, is the place to apply the Pauline principle of “All things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Corinthians 10:22). We should begin with the assumption that this new technology is a good thing, and see if there is anything to disqualify it, rather than beginning by assuming it is a bad thing and seeing if there is anything to redeem it. Let’s take a quick tour of the stated opinions of a selection of religious bodies.
The “all things are lawful – first” approach is indeed to be found among some of the bishops of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Back in 1987, the forward thinking scholar, the late HG Bishop Gregorius delivered a lecture and subsequently published a book on IVF. In it he presents a beautifully balanced critique of this powerful technology, highlighting the benefits it offers to infertile couples as well as the likely problems with progress in this kind of medical technology. His words, summarised by Dr Botros Rizk (see link below) are strangely prescient, and the ethical and moral principles he outlines remain the foundation for our attitude towards the subject today, including the condemnation of commercial trade in eggs or sperm and surrogacy.
HG Bishop Moussa in a 2006 article (see link below) takes a “wait and see” approach: “We are now waiting to see what man will do with knowledge. Will he make it the means of human growth and development or will he make it a means of destruction and distortion?” On the other hand, HG Bishop Serapion of LA (see link below) takes a much harder line: “Cloning is against God’s plan for human reproduction. It is very hard to draw a line between therapeutic cloning for research and human cloning … Christians should oppose any proposition that advances embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.”
Given the differences in the opinions of Coptic Orthodox authorities on some of these issues, such as therapeutic cloning, for example, perhaps it is time for our Church to formally study these issues in depth and produce a definitive statement. On the other hand, a wide reading of the literature from all sources leaves one with the strong impression that no one has yet formulated waterproof arguments on many of these issues, so perhaps there is a wisdom in allowing the discussion to progress further before an official position is published by the Church?
The Catholic Church has officially banned all forms of human cloning (see link below). This is consistent with its hardline pro-life positions on abortion, IVF, stem cell research and even contraception. In contrast, the Coptic Church’s pro-life position encompasses only the injunction to not kill; there is no injunction about preventing conception. Thus, while we are opposed to abortion (with the exception of situations where the life of the mother or the infant are in danger) and opposed to IVF or stem cell procedures that involve the destruction of embryos, we have no problem with any form of contraception that does not involve destroying an embryo. For those who are interested, that only rules out IUDs and the morning after pill, both of which have been shown to have a significant risk of acting by destroying an already fertilised embryo.
You may recall that Dr Savos gained the blessing of the senior Imam of Hammas in Lebanon for his cloning work. Interestingly, this is in direct contradiction to the publicly stated “official” Islamic position on the matter. At least one respected Islamic authority has declared human cloning ‘haraam’ (see link below).
Next time, we’ll go back and bravely have a go at taming some of those really tricky ethical questions.
Links to various religious views on Cloning:
http://www.bioline.org.br/pdf?mf05031 The views of the Coptic Orthodox Church on the treatment of infertility, assisted reproduction and cloning. Botros Rizk, M.R.C.O.G., M.D, 2005.
http://www.stmina.hamilton.on.coptorthodox.ca/index.php?action=view&id=29&module=newsmodule&src=%40random44d36c519a457 The Christian View Of Cloning. HG Bishop Moussa, 2006.
http://www.lacopts.org/articles/the-churchs-perspective-stem-cell-research The Church’s Perspective on Stem Cell Research. HG Bishop Serapion,
http://www.americancatholic.org/news/cloning/default.asp Roman Catholic position on Human Cloning, 2003.
http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N04/493/06/PDF/N0449306.pdf?OpenElement United Nations Declaration
http://www.islam-qa.com/en/ref/21582/clone Islamic Fatwa denounces Human Cloning as ‘haraam’.