Human Reproductive Cloning Is Ethically Problematic

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Editor: Jacqueline Langwith
Date: 2012
From: Cloning
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Series: Opposing Viewpoints
Document Type: Viewpoint essay
Length: 2,001 words

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Dennis P. Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life, Baker Publishing Group, 2009, pp. 218-222. Copyright © 2009 by Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.

"Cloning is an affront to the dignity of human beings."

In the following viewpoint, an excerpt from his book The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life, Dennis P. Hollinger argues that human reproductive cloning is ethically wrong. Hollinger says the cloning of a human being completely separates sex, love, and procreation, reducing the value of the family. Additionally, maintains Hollinger, cloning is ethically problematic because it turns procreation into manufacturing. According to Hollinger, reproductive cloning is an affront to human dignity. Dennis P. Hollinger is president and the Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

As you read, consider the following questions:

  1. What is the fifth reason that Hollinger gives for why some people might desire reproductive cloning?
  2. What reason does Hollinger give for asserting that society should have an interest in keeping sex, love, and procreation together?
  3. According to Hollinger, who said "parents never get the children they thought they were giving birth to"?

With cloning we come to the ultimate of reproductive control. In this technology we not only bypass sex, but, unlike other ARTs [assisted reproductive technologies], we bypass the sexual gametes, egg and sperm. In fact males are no longer needed at all. All that is required is a female egg and a transplanted cell from a donor of either sex. This is truly asexual reproduction, and with the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996 (the first cloned mammal), reproductive cloning is no longer just the subject of science fiction. It is a reality whose time has come.

With cloning we enter a brave new world of reproduction that is radically different from all previous forms. We enter an unknown world in its effects, and a revolutionary world in terms of its ethical and social implications. As the President's Council on Bioethics put it, cloning is something "that touches fundamental aspects of our humanity. The notion of cloning raises issues about identity and individuality, the meaning of having children, the difference between procreation and manufacture, and the relationship between the generations."...

The Technology and Purposes of Cloning

Cloning of both animals and humans looks fairly simple on paper, but making it happen is not so easy.

It is accomplished by removing the nucleus of a female egg and replacing it with nuclear material from any cell (other than gamete cells) of a donor. The process is technically called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and stands in contrast to the conventional conception of bringing two gamete cells (egg and sperm) together. When the nucleus of the donor is placed into the ovum, an electrical charge is administered with the intent that the ovum, with the new nuclear material, will begin to divide, as if impregnated by a male sperm. From there on the biological development is essentially the same as normal modes of conception, embryonic/fetal development, and birth. The clone (animal or human) is virtually a genetic duplicate of the donor of the nucleus. In human cloning, the clone would clearly be a human person, but a genetic twin of the person providing the nucleus.

There are essentially two forms of cloning in terms of intent: therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. Or as some prefer: cloning for biomedical research and cloning to produce children. In therapeutic cloning the purpose is to develop a clone from which researchers can garner stem cells for research and therapy, or gain scientific knowledge for curing human diseases. In reproductive cloning the intention is to initiate a pregnancy with the hope of producing a child. At this time most of the stated interest is for biomedical research and therapy. Therapeutic cloning can produce stem cells that have the potential of healing various diseases. The interest in cloning for stem cells centers on overcoming immune rejection, which is a major barrier to stem cell transplant. With therapeutic cloning the donor nucleus could come from the patient needing the stem cell transplant, thus overcoming the immune rejection. In the process the cloned human embryo is destroyed.

Our major focus here, however, is on reproductive cloning.... Why would one desire reproductive cloning? There are several reasons. One purpose might be to provide an infertile couple the possibility of having a child that is biologically related to one of the individuals in the dyad. A second reason might be to "replicate" or "bring back" a loved one who died. If the nuclear material was taken from the deceased person, the clone would be genetically identical to the dead person. A third rationale might be to have a child without a genetic disease. If both persons had a recessive gene for a genetic disease, cloning could ensure that the offspring would not have the disorder. A fourth reason for human cloning would be to provide a transplant organ or tissue for a sick or dying person. With a clone of the sick person there would be a genetic match that could provide the transplant material without risk of rejection. A fifth reason for cloning is eugenic purposes. Here the intent would be to reproduce an extremely gifted, talented, or intelligent human being. A final rationale could be scientific knowledge. Scientists have long debated the nature versus nurture issue, and cloning would provide interesting insight in that the clone and donor would not be living in identical contexts or have the same experiences. It could also provide useful knowledge about the transmission and course of various diseases.

It is one thing to have reasons for cloning. But the ethics of it all is another matter.

At present most researchers and bioethicists believe that reproductive cloning would be ethically wrong. But many add, "At this point." The crucial moral issue for many is the harm that would come to the clone and to the cloned embryos in the research process. As [ethicist] Roger Shinn puts it, "The statistics of risk are foreboding. In the case of Dolly, [Ian] Wilmut needed 277 attempts. Only 29 resulted in embryos that survived more than six days. These led to thirteen pregnancies. All miscarried, some with malformations, except Dolly." In the end Dolly developed serious physiological problems and had to be euthanized. It is generally believed that with humans the results would be even more formidable.

But not all accept this risk assumption. Some researchers seem determined to be the first to clone a live human being—a drive that has led to fraudulent claims and laying aside ethical concerns. One aspiring cloner, Dr. Panayiotis Zavos, told Time magazine, "Ethics is a wonderful word, but we need look beyond the ethical issues here. [Cloning is] not an ethical issue. It's a medical issue. We have a duty here. Some people need this to complete the life cycle, to reproduce." Given the keen interest in reproductive cloning by such researchers, and the drive toward therapeutic cloning (which is a step in the direction of reproductive cloning), it seems only a matter of time till someone will lay aside the concerns for harm and produce a human clone. But even if we could control for harm and risk, should we do it?

Significant Concerns

From a sexual ethics standpoint there are significant concerns with reproductive cloning. In the cloning of a human being by asexual means, we have the most radical separation of sex, love, and procreation. As I have contended throughout this [viewpoint], God designed that humans come into the world out of the most loving, one-flesh intimacy possible—sexual intercourse of a husband and wife. To be sure, our society has frequently pulled apart this unity with the large numbers of children born outside of wedlock. Artificial insemination and surrogacy sever the unity of sex, love, and procreation as well. But with cloning the three are pulled apart to the fullest degree. With other ART there is still the "stuff" (egg and sperm) of sex in procreation, but with cloning we render even the "stuff" of sex obsolete. This is not merely a theological argument regarding God's designs for humanity. Society itself ought to have an interest in keeping sex, love, and procreation together for the good of the social order.

The separation of this triad in cloning potentially turns procreation into an individualistic enterprise, resulting from individual choices. The family, the moral context for procreation, is virtually absent in the pursuit of this form of procreative liberty. Brent Waters notes, "The problem with procreative liberty is its presumption that a child is an outcome of reproductive choices." In contrast, he proposes that "we think of children as the culmination of a complex and purposeful process, and that procreation itself be viewed as a teleologically ordered pattern of practices. Children, then, are more the outgrowth of a relationship than the outcome of individual decisions." In individually determining ahead of time the exact result of procreation, cloning is "incompatible with the family as a place of unconditional belonging," says Waters. Moreover, "The family is built upon the one-flesh unity of a wife and husband, who out of the totality of their shared being bring into life a new being who is part of them and yet who is also wholly other than them."

All of this leads to another way in which cloning is ethically problematic. It is the most explicit form of turning procreation into manufacturing. We have already noted that the language of reproduction connotes manufacturing, which intentionally creates a desired, predetermined outcome. Cloning is the ultimate of reproductive manufacturing in that one determines ahead of time the exact result of the procreative process. The President's Council on Bioethics sharply contrasts the traditional and natural mode of procreation with the cloning and manufacturing mode. In the traditional and natural form,

The precise genetic endowment of each child is determined by a combination of nature and chance, not by human design: each human child naturally acquires and shares the common human species genotype, each child is genetically (equally) kin to each (both) parent(s), yet each child is also genetically unique. Cloning to produce children departs from this pattern. A cloned child has unilineal, not bilineal, descent; he or she is genetically kin to only one progenitor....

In God's designs for procreation, children are not a product. Children are a gift flowing from the one-flesh, loving relationship—the most secure context for entering this world and being nurtured to fullness of life.

Thus, cloning is an affront to the dignity of human beings, which flows from creation in God's image. It undermines the unique individuality (not individualism) which is part of the imago Dei and human worth. It is not mere twinning as some advocates claim, for it is an intentional twinning in which twin sister is also mother. It compounds family and generational relations, potentially causing significant identity and relational issues.

Cloning also contradicts the very nature of parenting from a biblical perspective. [Theologian] Will Willimon sums it up well:

Parents never get the children they thought they were giving birth to. That's why I'm unhappy with the term "planned parenthood," as if it's only desirable to have children if you have planned or chosen them. Who plans to have a severely retarded child, or a rebellious child, or a child who plays the drums in a rock band? Sometimes we get such a child. And what then? You can choose an automobile, but you can't choose a child. You must receive a child. The Bible says a child is a gift, not a possession or a project.
Parenting is not about our own self-willed determinations, which is the very nature of cloning. It is a stewardship flowing from the one-flesh, procreative, loving relationship of marriage. In procreation and parenting we are hospitable to the children God gives, not the children we have designed for our own selfish ends.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ3010383241