What is cloning?
- Cloning involves the creation of an embryo which is an identical copy of another human being. Clones can be created through dividing an embryo at its earliest stage (creating two identical embryos). They can also be created using Cell Nuclear Replacement, the technique used to create Dolly the Sheep in 1997.
- In Cell Nuclear Replacement the nucleus of one cell is placed into an egg which has had its own nucleus removed. It is then stimulated to divide so that it becomes a clone.
- The Government has sought to make a distinction between ‘therapeutic’ and ‘reproductive’ cloning. However, the process of creating a human life in embryo form is the same in either case.
- In reproductive cloning the created embryo is implanted into a human womb, leading to the birth of a human being. Whilst this is now technically possible, it has never been done anywhere in the world.
- The Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 banned all human reproductive cloning in the UK.
- Therapeutic cloning also creates human beings in embryo form through cloning, but the embryos are experimented upon and destroyed.
- ‘Therapeutic’ cloning has no therapeutic value for the subject involved. In fact it is literally lethal, necessarily bringing about the death of the embryo.
- On 19 December 2000 the House of Commons became the first legislature in the world to vote explicitly to legalise human cloning. The House of Lords confirmed this decision on 22 January 2001. This was done not by primary legislation but by a Ministerial Order.
- In 2004, the HFEA granted the first licence to create human embryonic stem cells using therapeutic cloning.1 Using this licence, scientists in Newcastle upon Tyne were among the first in the world to successfully clone a human embryo in 2005.2
Why scientists have sought to clone embryos for research
- ‘Stem cells’ are of great importance to research into curing human diseases. A stem cell is an unspecialised cell capable of giving rise to a specialised cell of the body, such as a skin cell, a blood cell, a muscle cell, or a nerve cell. It was the demand to obtain these cells from embryos which was said to justify ‘therapeutic’ cloning.
- Stem cells are found in human embryos and in a wide variety of human tissue. Human embryos are not easy to obtain as it involves extracting female ova by an operation and then fertilising them.
- For a time, many scientists claimed that embryos provided the best source of stem cells and that cloning was necessary to be able to create more embryos as a more readily available source of stem cells.
- In recent years, adult stem cells derived from human tissue have led to numerous medical treatments (see Embryo Experiments). However, taking stem cells from an embryo necessarily involves the destruction of the embryo and has not yet provided a verifiable medical treatment. Currently the supply of embryos comes as a by-product of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Some parents donate their excess embryos for the research.
Human cloning creates human beings – from conception
Whether it be ‘therapeutic’ or ‘reproductive’ cloning – both techniques create human life.
Life is sacred from conception (see the Sanctity of life). The embryo has personhood at conception regardless of how that conception comes about. Once a new life has been created through cloning there is no moral distinction between it and any other embryo. All embryos deserve our protection.
‘Therapeutic’ cloning is morally repugnant because it creates life with the specific aim of experimentation and destruction. The stem cells are extracted for research and the embryo dies. Pro-lifers have called this practice “technological cannibalism”.
‘Reproductive’ cloning is also morally indefensible as set out below.
Human cloning is biological manufacturing by man not creation by God
Human cloning, and particularly ‘reproductive cloning’, puts the choices about a new life in the hands of a person rather than God. It will be left to the scientist to decide which embryo appears fit for implantation and which should be discarded. Human cloning usurps God’s position as the Almighty Creator. Job acknowledged, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away” (Job 1:21).
Under this new regime man, and not God, chooses the desired characteristics of any resultant children. It gives man control over the next generation. Cloning gives humans control over human fertility and therefore over the design/genetics of future generations. Thus man exerts a tyranny over future generations. As C. S. Lewis said:
“In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them.”3
Children are a gift from God
Children are a gift from God.4 No one has a ‘right’ to have children even though they may be earnestly desired and infertility is usually found to be deeply distressing.5 However, cloning and many forms of IVF make commodities out of children who are “made to order”. Procreation is taken out of God’s hands and given to man.
Cloning breaks the link with parents
God created man and woman; He instituted marriage for their mutual benefit and for the procreation of children.6 God told Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”7
In this way human relationships are based on relations between a husband and wife, their children and the wider family. God’s creation of the marriage relationship, and its central place in the procreation of the next generation, is for our benefit.
God’s intention is that children are procreated using genetic material from both their parents. With cloning the genetic material comes from only one ‘parent’. The child will be the genetic brother of the ‘father’ or the genetic sister of the ‘mother’. This profoundly undermines God’s intended order for procreation.
The legislation was universally condemned by national Christian leaders and leaders of non-Christian faiths
Prior to the vote in the House of Lords (22 January 2001), which approved the Ministerial Order on cloning, eleven prominent religious leaders wrote to Peers in the House of Lords opposing the move. These included: the former Archbishops of Canterbury and York (Dr George Carey and Dr David Hope); the then Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster (the Most Revd Cormac Murphy-O’Connor) and the late Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow (Cardinal Thomas Winning); the Chief Rabbi (Dr Jonathan Sacks); the then General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance (Revd Joel Edwards); as well as leaders from Muslim and Sikh organisations, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Baptist Union and the Free Church.8
In February 2005, the United Nations passed a declaration calling for an international ban on all forms of human cloning, including therapeutic cloning. The UN stated any form of human cloning was incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.9
So called ‘therapeutic’ cloning is unnecessary
- There is no need to clone human embryos since stem cells can be taken from adults (adult stem cells), a process not involving the creation and destruction of embryos.
- Adult stem cells, the ethical alternative, are proving very successful and have led to dozens of medical treatments (see Embryo Experiments).10
- The report which led to the Government’s proposals on cloning (The Donaldson Report) recommended that research on cloned embryos should not take place if alternatives are available.11
The extraordinary way in which the Government has legalised cloning
Rather than introducing a Bill, the Government used a Statutory Instrument to make changes to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 (‘the 1990 Act’). It claims that the changes could be dealt with in this perfunctory way because the issues were dealt with in the debates surrounding the 1990 Act.12
This is untrue. Cloning was seen as science fiction during those debates. One pro-experimentation MP said at the time: “We have heard much scare talk about hybrids, clones and designer babies, but such talk comes from people who do not understand the limitations of the work, and these ideas are strictly banned by the guidelines which have so far been adhered to voluntarily and which, if the Bill is passed, will have statutory force when the licensing authority is set up.”13
Ann Winterton (then MP for Congleton) quoted from an editorial in The Daily Telegraph during the House of Commons debate:
“When, in 1990, the law was changed to permit embryo research, cloning was still science fiction; there was no debate about its ethics. It was never Parliament’s intention to allow cloning, even if it had been conceivable. The new regulations are being presented as if they merely clarified the existing law, whereas in reality they mark a radical departure from it. This is a serious abuse of parliamentary procedure.”14
Legalising cloning without mentioning cloning
The Government has chosen indirect means to legalise human cloning. The Statutory Instrument widens the purposes (“the ends”) for which research may be conducted under the 1990 Act. In doing so it legalises human cloning as the means to produce the embryos from which stem cells are extracted for research into disease.
The Statutory Instrument “merely” details the new areas of research. Cloning is not mentioned at all, yet the Government’s whole purpose is to legalise the cloning of human embryos for research. The Research Paper from the House of Commons Library explaining the Statutory Instrument summed up its purpose as follows: “The Regulations will therefore extend the use of early embryos in research to include research into treatment of serious disease, including the use of embryos created by cell nuclear replacement for this purpose.”15
The ends have been legislated for, but the Statutory Instrument is silent on the means. Human cloning is assumed. This is a fundamentally dishonest approach. A change as profound as human cloning should have involved primary legislation. This point was even made by supporters of the Government’s plans.16
Turning the embryo into a commodity
The Government’s intention is that cloned human embryos can be used as a source for spare parts such as a replacement liver. This reduces the embryo to a commodity.
The embryo is human life albeit in its earliest stages. This is not merely a religious position. It is a statement of fact. The embryo that develops over the nine months from conception until a baby is born at no point ceases to be one thing and begins to be another. From conception it is a member of the species homo sapiens and is genetically complete. All it takes to become a baby is a womb. It therefore deserves our respect.
The idea of creating human life with the sole purpose of using it for experimentation and then destroying it should horrify us. A moral Rubicon is crossed at this point.
The purpose of medical intervention has always been to help the subject of the intervention. Any intervention which has no benefit to the individual should only be with their express consent and even then the duty remains to protect the life and health of the patient.17 To alter this principle in medicine is to put all who are weak and vulnerable in a perilous position.
Whilst medical research should look for new ways to relieve pain and suffering, this should not be at any price. The reason people care for the sick is because of their status as human beings. Anything which undermines respect for human beings, whatever their circumstances, is bad news for the weak and the vulnerable in society. It is a bad thing if the “potential benefits” to society are used as a justification for destroying the weak.
Illegal not to kill
Ironically, the Government’s commitment never to allow reproductive cloning simply means it will be a criminal offence not to kill these human embryos. As one ethicist has commented: “These embryos will be created only for destruction – in fact it will be illegal to try to bring such an embryo to live birth. Government will define a class of human beings that it is illegal not to kill!”18 Can this ever be morally right?
Reproductive cloning will result
In theory reproductive cloning was banned by the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001. Only therapeutic cloning is lawful and only provided the cloned embryos are destroyed after 14 days – the current time limit for research on embryos.
Human cloning has not been banned entirely. Given this is so, many believe that reproductive cloning is inevitable. As Professor Nigel Cameron has stated: “Those who argue the inevitability of reproductive cloning are, sadly, probably right.”19
Cloning pulls apart traditional family relationships
If a man could go to a clinic and have himself cloned, the resulting child would, genetically, be his twin brother. The child’s sociological parent is his identical twin. His sociological grandparents are his biological parents. His sociological sister is his niece. The human clone is not the next generation, but the same biological generation as his sociological parent. This bizarre arrangement disrupts normal family relationships, and will have an effect on the laws governing incest and even inheritance.
Cloning produces children created for an expectation rather than valued because they are a human being
The clone may be produced in order to replace someone, for example, the son who was tragically lost at a young age, the world class footballer or the brilliant academic. No one should be born with such expectations. Moreover a person is more than his genes. The environment is increasingly understood to be more influential than hereditary factors.20 Will parents seek to manipulate their child clone’s upbringing to influence their character? What happens if the child does not fulfil expectations?
The process is very unreliable and human beings should not be used in experiments
Dolly the sheep was not the only attempt at cloning. In fact 277 embryos were created.21 Only a percentage of these were suitable to implant and only one survived to birth. 276 were therefore lost. This terrible wastage emphasises the disregard for the embryo. Experimentation on embryos can never be considered acceptable or ethical. Added to this are the unknown health risks to the cloned embryo and resulting child. Cloned animals create complications during their pregnancies and have a high death rate – trials in New Zealand found that 90 per cent of cloned animals died during trials for various reasons.22 There is no reason to think the cloned human being would fare better.
- 1Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, Press Release, HFEA grants the first therapeutic cloning licence for research, 11 August 2004
- 2The Guardian, 20 May 2005
- 3Lewis, C S, The Abolition of Man, Harper Collins Religious, 1978, page 35
- 4Psalm 127:3 “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.”
- 51 Samuel 1
- 6See Genesis 2:18 and Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”.
- 7Genesis 1:28
- 8The Daily Telegraph, 15 January 2001
- 9United Nations, Press Release, Legal Committee Recommends UN Declaration on Human Cloning to General Assembly, GA/L/3271, 18 February 2005
- 10See Prentice, D and Macrito, R, Stem Cells, Cloning, and Human Embryos, Family Research Council, 2013, pages 4-8
- 11Stem Cell Research: Medical Progress with Responsibility, Department of Health, June 2000, page 46
- 12House of Commons, Hansard, 19 December 2000, col. 212
- 13House of Commons, Hansard, 23 April 1990, col. 64
- 14House of Commons, Hansard, 19 December 2000, col. 241
- 15House of Commons, Research Paper 00/93, 13 December 2000, page 31
- 16House of Commons, Hansard, 19 December 2000, col. 212
- 17Higginson, R, The Ethics of Experimentation, in Cameron, N (ed), Embryos and Ethics, Rutherford House, 1987, page 28
- 18Doerflinger, R M, Life Issues Forum – Science and Morality: No Conflict, see https://cogforlife.org/2000/08/18/richard-doerflinger-nccb-statement-on-stem-cell-research-senate-hearings/ as at 24 April 2015
- 19‘Britain debates whether to clone embryos to treat disease’, 21 November 2000, see http://www.theologicaleditions.com/Features/PreviousFeatures/Feature21-11-00.htm as at 6 May 2015
- 20Telegraph Online, 15 October 2013, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/10377735/Theres-much-more-to-IQ-than-biology-and-DNA.html as at 12 May 2015
- 21The Daily Telegraph, 11 February 2002
- 22Mail Online, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1360166/New-Zealand-abandons-cloning-farm-animals-90-PER-CENT-died-trials.html as at 12 May 2015