Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Human Life Is Not Sheep: An Ethical Perspective on Cloning

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Human Life Is Not Sheep: An Ethical Perspective on Cloning

Article excerpt


On February 22, 1997, the media were abuzz with the announcement that Scottish geneticists had-eight months earlier-successfully cloned (copied) a sheep named Dolly.1 Quite understandably the Scottish achievement of sheep-cloning was treated as a newsworthy milestone in the smoothly speeding advance of modern biotechnology. Not since the advent in the late 1970s of Louise Brown, the celebrated first test-tube baby, has public attention been so focused on the biological revolution under way in our time. 2

The thing that made Dolly loom so large, of course, was that she signaled the imminent feasibility of applying comparable procedures and technology to the cloning of human beings. And this prospect has sent everyone scrambling. Arthur L. Caplan admits that unfortunately "we don't have the legal and ethical basis to handle [these rapid developments] yet."3

Prudence urges that we ought to proceed slowly on a matter of such potentially great import. Consequently the United Nations, Bill Clinton and others have issued cautious statements that are essentially designed to buy some time and carve out some breathing space to weigh the implications of this new capability for shaping humanity. This article is an attempt to take advantage of this breathing space to reflect on the ethical aspects of cloning from a Christian perspective.

Admittedly there is a cozy, parochial flavor to the topic, for cloning has emerged as an issue for serious consideration only in the relatively affluent and technologically advanced nations of the world. From a global perspective there is something embarrassing about dealing with something so unreal to the great majority of human beings in their gritty struggle merely to survive. A sense of moral proportion would suggest that other less esoteric issues have a greater claim upon our attention. In our own proscribed context, however, we must reluctantly acknowledge that the issue of cloning has surfaced and therefore cannot safely be ignored.

By the nature of its discussion this article belongs to the sprawling field of bioethics and, more precisely, to its subdivision of genetic ethics. Even so it will not address genetic therapies or touch on the ominous issues associated with recombinant DNA (fusing genetic material into new combinations). Indeed it considers just one, and that a relatively small, aspect of genetic engineering-namely, the cloning of human beings.

Our thesis is that Christian concern regarding human cloning need not be rooted in doubts about whether cloned persons will be fully human. Neither should Christians argue that such an arena of genetic engineering ought to be permanently and artificially cordoned off from human initiative on the grounds that any such human interventions would amount to playing God. Rather, Christians ought to encourage a moratorium on human cloning because there do not appear to be, at least at present, any motives or reasons for cloning that accord well with the divine design for human existence.4


Biomedical research is perhaps the most dynamic and strategic sphere of scientific advance today. It explores a pulsating microuniverse no less wondrous than the macrouniverse of space and astronomy, and from it are issuing new and unprecedented capabilities to inaugurate human life, to affect its quality and alter its contours, and then, as each life draws inexorably to a close, to determine its duration and set the moment of its termination. The whole intent of such research applications is to become more involved and benevolently intentional in matters of creating and sustaining life and thus not to leave so much to chance.

Bioethics, or medical ethics, is a burgeoning field. Ethicists who hope to stay abreast of the myriad of new issues and dilemmas raised by these developments are, among other things, obliged to familiarize themselves with an ever-expanding glossary of strange new terms. …

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