Cloning: Understanding The Basics

By James Lamb

Date: April 25, 2008

Category: Bioethics

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Introduction
The cloning of Dolly the sheep is old news. Now there is talk about cloning humans to "replace" a dead child or to provide body parts for transplant. Most people are opposed to such cloning. But there is support for cloning human embryos to obtain stem cells to treat disease. Christians acknowledge that God has given us abilities to be used for treating disease. However, God's gifts may be misused. We hope this article will help you sort out some of the confusing language used in the cloning debate so that you will be able to apply God's truths to the issue of cloning.

Back to the Beginning
The actual cloning procedure is highly technical and extremely difficult. It took 277 tries to clone Dolly. However, the concept of how cloning is supposed to work is not difficult at all to understand. First a little review of some basic biology.

When the 23 chromosomes in the nucleus of the sperm unite with the 23 chromosomes in the nucleus of the egg, a new and unique one-celled human being is formed (you!). You are an embryo from this point until the 8th week. After four to five days of development, you are also referred to as a blastocyst. You consist of a single layer of cells forming a hollow sphere with a mass of cells inside the sphere. The single layer of cells on the outside will eventually form your placenta.

The mass of cells inside the sphere are stem cells. They will form your heart, liver, brain, pancreas, skin, bones, etc. Each has the potential to become any kind of cell of the body. As you travel through the fallopian tube and implant in your mother's uterine lining, these cells begin to differentiate and you continue to develop.

The Cloning Procedure
In cloning, there is no uniting of sperm and egg. The nucleus is removed from an egg cell and the nucleus from a body (somatic) cell of the person you want to clone is transferred into the egg. This nucleus contains all 46 chromosomes. The egg is then stimulated. Development begins and, if this tiny human being is implanted into a womb, will continue as in the normal process of procreation. This new person would be the identical twin of the person from whom the somatic cell was taken.

Cloning is Cloning
As stated earlier, most people are opposed to cloning in order to produce a born child-"reproductive cloning." However, many researchers make a distinction between cloning to produce a born child and cloning to produce embryos as a source of stem cells for research. They favor cloning embryos to obtain stem cells for research into treating various diseases-"therapeutic cloning"-but not to produce a born child.

But cloning is cloning. Once you transfer that somatic (body) cell into that egg cell and stimulate it to grow, you have produced another human being. The question that remains is what to do with that human being-destroy him or her for stem cells or implant him or her into a womb. It is important for Christians to understand that "therapeutic" cloning does not prevent the formation of a human being. It, in fact, dictates that a human being be destroyed.

Cloaking Cloning
Because the word "cloning" often produces a negative reaction, the phrase "somatic cell nuclear transfer" has been used instead of "therapeutic cloning." So you might hear people say, "I'm opposed to cloning humans, but I am in favor of somatic cell nuclear transfer for the purpose of treating disease." 

But "somatic cell nuclear transfer" is cloning! Don't be fooled when cloning is cloaked in this kind of language. Whether it is "therapeutic cloning" or "somatic cell nuclear transfer" or "somatic cell nuclear therapy" or "nuclear transplantation," they all involve the cloning of a human being.

Likewise, do not be fooled or misled by "therapeutic" and "treating disease" and "promising medical research." Understand that these words imply that one tiny human being is going to be killed so that his or her body parts (stem cells) can be used in an effort to help another human being. Christians should not be dispassionate about those suffering with debilitating diseases. However, the formation of a human life for the express purpose of destroying that life cannot be acceptable to the Christian, regardless of the supposed benefit.

Why Christians Must Oppose Cloning
That brings us to the reason why Christians must oppose the cloning of human beings. Even if the cloning of human embryos could be perfected so that there would be no chance of producing malformed embryos-this happens routinely in the cloning of animals-Christians must oppose cloning humans. Even if stem cells obtained from cloned embryos are shown to cure diseases, Christians must oppose cloning humans. Our reason is a fundamental one.

The creation of life must be left in the hands of the Creator. In the beginning God created the first humans, and he did so in a very "hands on" way. He formed Adam from the dust of the ground. He made Eve from one of Adam's ribs. When God told them to be fruitful and multiply, he set into motion a biological process for procreation. But he did not remove himself from that process. His hands, the Psalmist tells us, knit us together in our mother's womb. God is still intimately involved in the creation of life through the process he established. God has also established a place for his procreative biological process-marriage. Procreation is to take place within the context of the one-flesh union of man and wife.

Sin, of course, has put its mark on God's procreative process as it has on everything else. The biology of procreation does not always work as it was intended to work. We can be thankful to God for the wisdom he gives to people who have been able to develop ways and technologies to assist in the procreative process and overcome some of the effects of sin.

Sin has done something else as well. "You'll be like God knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5). That first temptation has been at the root of all subsequent temptations. Cloning goes way beyond assisting in procreation. Cloning removes the procreative act from the process and the context God has prescribed. It changes procreation into production. It places man, not God, at the center, and man decides what is right and wrong, good and evil. Cloning assaults God as the author of life and insults him as the Lord of Life. Therefore, Christians must oppose cloning because it is inherently wrong and contrary to the will and way of God.

The way of God for his people is the way of faith. We have faith in God the Father who loves the work of his hands. We have faith in God the Son who demonstrated God's great love by going to the cross to deal with sin once and for all. We have faith in the Holy Spirit who lives in us and assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. With such a God on our side, we need not turn to the ways of this world to solve our problems. We can have faith in the will and the ways of our God whose love is assured regardless of our circumstances.

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