September 27, 2018
by David Stevens, MD, MA (Ethics)
Back when color copiers had just been developed, a sociopathic teenager I knew decided he could make a few quick bucks. He got a group of friends to pool their funds, bought the latest copier and started cloning local currency. As you can imagine, even in a developing country, they were soon found out and got into big trouble for their counterfeiting.
Today, cloning dollars is a legal and lucrative profession for Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, the Korean researcher who claimed he had successfully cloned a human embryo in the journal Science in 2004 while he was a faculty member at the prestigious Seoul National University. By 2006, he had been kicked out of his university when their investigation revealed he had fabricated evidence, embezzled government finds and paid female researchers in his own lab for their eggs. He tearfully apologized at his trial and sentenced to two years in prison, but then he was set free because of his remorse.
You would think that would be the end of the story, but he and his staff in his castle-like lab clone dogs for pet owners distraught over losing their animals. He might as well have been cloning greenbacks. The cost is $100,000, so his clients are movie stars, Middle Eastern royalty and billionaires like John Sperling, the founder of Phoenix University.
Cloning is an extremely lucrative business that has become more efficient. The first dog cloned in 2005 took the creation of 1,000 embryos and the uteruses of 100 dogs. With manufacturing “know how,” Hwang today claims he can accomplish it with three mommy dogs, each with multiple implanted embryos. The rate-limiting steps are getting the dog oocytes, but he guarantees his customers they will receive their cloned dog within five months after submitting tissue.
One of his next projects is to clone a wooly mammoth using frozen tissue harvested from wooly mammoth frozen for thousands of years that was recently found in Siberia. That may be more lucrative than the up to $100 million dollars he has made from cloning 1,000 dogs. With frozen tissue snippets from enough species, he could open his own Jurassic Park.
But, of course, that is not the main issue, unless you are an animal rights activist.
If someone will pay $100,000 for a copy of their dog, how much will they pay to “replace” their deceased child or to recreate themselves with the hope of one day downloading their brain into their clone someday? As cloning efficiency increases, it is only a matter of time. Scientists in China said they will be able to clone a human being after they successful created two long-tailed macaques named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua earlier this year.
Of course, it will be justified as a reproductive right, which today trumps all other considerations. Proponents will claim again that the government has no right to regulate science, and with research dollars to further enhance safety, it will be a great benefit to mankind. I can already hear scientists telling the media that if they don’t do it first, scientists in other countries will. “Are we going to let ‘them’ get ahead of us?” But the bottom line reason, the strong undertow below the surface, will be the money to be made.
As Christians, first we need to know what the Bible says:
- Human life is sacred because we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26; 9:6).
- God’s design is for procreation, not creation (Mark 10:6-9; Genesis 4:1).
- God planned the family to bear and nurture children (1 Timothy 3:4-5; Psalm 127:3).
Morally and ethically:
- There is an intrinsic value of human life. Cloning will cause many embryonic humans to die before birth as they fail to implant or miscarriage.
- Using human life as a means to an end is immoral. Clones are created not for their own worth but the worth imputed to them for being like an “other.”
- Human cloning robs the person of the right to their unique individual identity.
- Human cloning is human commodification.
There are scientific reasons that human cloning should be banned worldwide.
- There is a high risk of mutations as a result of environmental factors and errors in replications of genes. For example, a mucosal cell may have many mutations (like scratches on a CD) that are not seen (heard) because only a small portion of its genetic material is being expressed (like playing only one track of a CD). When the cell is used to clone, all of the genes are once again expressed (like playing the entire CD).
- There will be malformations. Large offspring syndrome (LOS) appears in perhaps 30 to 40 percent of cloned animals. LOS results in lung, brain, liver, tongue, heart and other defects that often lead to early death. Cloned animals often have malformed placentas.
- There will be an affect on genetic diversity in the long run if large scale cloning is done.
Human cloning will cause societal issues.
- Who will be the biological parents of a cloned child? The person they are cloned from? That person is not their mother or father but their twin. Is it the woman who donated the oocyte? She hasn’t given them any DNA. Is it the person or persons who raised them?
- How do you deal with the lineage of a clone? What is their legal status? Can they inherit? Do they need to be adopted? How do they fit in a family structure? They will be dislocated from a family tree. A whole new set of clone laws will need to be developed.
- It will be more important than ever to protect your DNA if you’re famous or admired so someone doesn’t steal your comb or toothbrush and genetically duplicate you without your permission. Imagine the news coverage when someone claims their son is the genetic twin of Michael Jordan. Humans will need copyright laws!
No prohibition is 100 percent successful, but laws do limit evil. Does our society, as well as other societies, have the foresight and moral will to limit human cloning? I fear not, when scientists can clone dollars.
CMDA’s Position Statement on Human Cloning
CMDA’s Position Statement on Genetic Information and Manipulation Technologies
Christian Bioethics by C. Ben Mitchell, PhD, and D. Joy Riley, MD