It happened. A human embryo was cloned. DNA taken from a skin cell was "enucleated" into a human female egg (the egg's DNA is removed and replaced with the DNA of another cell), traced with an electric current that switches on cell division (the egg responds as if it were fertilized with a sperm cell), to create the first single donor human embryo. This is the first embryo genetically identical to its donor.
The researchers who created the cloned embryo assured the public that they would not implant the embryo so that it does not grow into infancy. Instead, the embryo will be "harvested" for stem cells, a process that necessarily kills it. Even though the embryo lived only a few days, its creation crossed an ethical threshold that portends a frightening future.
The cloning of the embryo focuses on the essential questions about the value and dignity of human life with razor sharp clarity. It tests our belief that all persons possess a right to life to life given to them by God the Creator. It challenges our conviction that all decisions about life and death must ultimately be referenced to God the Judge. It upsets our ideas that all persons are to be created by a human mother and father and nurtured and raised within a human family.
Advocates of cloning often complain that many of the arguments against cloning are religious. Religious objections are subjective opinions, they argue. Religion ought to be excluded because it does not accept that the potential benefits of human cloning are a positive good.
It's a mistaken complaint. In fact, the questions raised by cloning are necessarily religious. Religion penetrates into the deeper places from where the essential questions about human value, purpose, and meaning arise. Science can reach deep into the material dimension of the human body and learn to manipulate, control, and even heal it, but science cannot reach the deep places where these essential questions are examined. This is why morality springs from religion and not science.
Most arguments justifying the cloning of human beings are utilitarian. Because science has alleviated human suffering, any advance that promises to relieve more suffering is an unquestionable good the reasoning goes. In particular, the potential of stem cell therapy to heal previously untreatable diseases eliminates any objection about cloning humans since the clone can provide an even higher quality stem cell. Technological advancement is the same thing as social progress in this view.
On the surface the approach is appealing. Below the surface trouble lurks. In this view, the embryo functions as a commodity. Human life is valued not by any reference to a higher law or Law Giver. Rather, human life is valued by its potential to improve the lives of those who possess strength and influence over the embryo.
This is the Brave New World we heard about since our childhood. Sound far-fetched? It shouldn't. Consider that today human embryos are being bought and sold like hamburger in a supermarket. In a few decades when cloning technology is more advanced, cloned infants and adults could easily be sold in the same way. There is no reason to distinguish between an embryo, infant, or adult when human life is reduced to a commodity.
Deep inside we know that human cloning is terribly wrong. Man was not created to produce body parts for other people. God created Adam not to exploit him, but to know him. Adam was commanded not to dominate the creation, but to nurture and care for it.
Some who work on the frontiers of human technology are intoxicated with the exhilaration of possessing the power once reserved for God. There also exists a blinding arrogance, particularly in the refusal to consider the far-reaching and perhaps irreversible ramifications that human cloning may foster on the culture. When the moral light that protects human value is extinguished, unthinkable cruelty can result.
Human cloning and the utilitarianism that justifies it, run counter to the commandment of Christ. Christ teaches that we must lose our life for our brother, not that we take life to preserve ourselves. We are to carry the cross of others, not nail them to it.
This article was published in The Hellenic Voice on December 12, 2001. Fr. Jacobse is a priest in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Copyright © 2002 Rev Johannes L. Jacobse