Christian leaders have responded quickly to Sunday's announcement that Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) has created human clones. The embryos died after a few hours.

The scientists said the experiment was not aimed at creating cloned human babies. Instead, the group's intention was to develop an embryo long enough to cultivate embryonic stem cells. In an article for the journal e-biomed (and appearing in the January issue of Scientific American), ACT makes a distinction between this type of cloning—called therapeutic cloning—and cloning that would produce a baby. Their method uses the genetic material from patients' own cells to treat illnesses, they say, while reproductive cloning should be banned due to "safety and ethical issues."

Few Christian leaders see such a distinction. President George Bush has called the experimentation "morally wrong." The Vatican responded with "unequivocal condemnation" saying that in such research, "the end doesn't justify the means."

Since Sunday, life ethics watchdog groups have condemned ACT's work by citing bottom line issues that embryos are humans and that any cloning is immoral. Most called for an immediate federal ban. In July, the House passed legislation that would ban any cloning—reproductive or therapeutic. But it stalled in the Senate after September 11.

After Sunday's announcement, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) encouraged the Senate to push the legislation to the forefront. On Tuesday, senators delayed decision for several months.

"The human embryo is a human person created in God's image," Jennifer Lahl, executive director of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, told Christianity Today. "We strongly support Senator Brownback is his push for legislation and call for a total, outright, complete, full ban on all cloning."

Common Ground

Nigel M. de S. Cameron, dean of The Wilberforce Forum, says opposition to human cloning is not limited to pro-life advocates, conservatives, or Christians. In fact, a broad collection of voices has assembled to call for a comprehensive ban. This debate is not a rehash of the abortion issue, Cameron said. Advocates from both sides of that debate oppose the direction in which human cloning could take life ethics. He explained in a statement on The Wilberforce Forum Web site:

If the human embryo is a human person, as many of us believe, then plainly experimental use of the embryo is always abuse and must be stopped. If we take an intermediate view, and say we do not know; or if we take the view that there is a high degree of genetically unique potential in the embryo that stops short of personhood—still we will not create embryos for experimentation and death. It is very striking that even some of those who favor that kind of use of so-called spare clinical embryos draw a deep line in the sand here. This mechanical production of members of our own species is inherently de-humanizing.
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Cameron and Lori Andrews, director of the Institute for Science, Law, and Technology, at the Illinois Institute of Technology, first published this argument in an August Chicago Tribuneopinion piece. They wrote that pro-life and pro-choice advocates have found "common ground in their commitment to the human future and the distrust of uncontrolled biotechnology, and revealed the extraordinary potential of their working together."

The piece centered on three renowned pro-choice advocates who testified before the House in June against human cloning. Judy Norsigian (editor of Our Bodies, Ourselves), social philosopher Francis Fukuyama, and New York College of Medicine's Stuart Newman said fears about cloning are unrelated to pro-choice convictions.

Norsigian told the House subcommittee on Health that "cloning advocates are seeking to appropriate the language of reproductive rights to support their case. This is a travesty. There is an immense difference between seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy and seeking to create a genetic duplicate human being. Our opposition to human cloning in no way diminishes our support for a woman's right to … abortion services."

The testimony given by Newman preceded a major fear that Christians have voiced since Sunday's ACT announcement. He said an outright ban is needed in the country because "if the construction of modified or cloned embryos is permitted, there will be little standing in the way of using them for reproductive purposes."

Therapeutic vs. Reproductive

The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity warns that key moral problems are found in ACT's argument that embryonic therapeutic cloning should be allowed but reproductive cloning should not be.

John F. Kilner, president and chief executive officer of the center, wrote in a commentary this week that such reasoning (detailed in the center's position paper, "Human Cloning: The Necessity of a Comprehensive Ban") demonstrates the need for a complete ban on all cloning. He said flaws in ATC's rationale include the facts that:

  • The term "therapeutic cloning" is misleading. True "therapeutic" research, he said, has potential to benefit the research subject. But destruction is not beneficial for the cloned embryos.
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  • Prohibiting reproductive cloning but allowing non-reproductive cloning establishes a requirement to destroy all cloned embryonic human beings before birth.
  • Reducing human life to a "thing" to be manipulated is unethical.
  • Some people will reject any treatments developed from stem cells (even those obtained without loss of life) because of the offensive cloning-for-research practice.

A Line in the Sand

Many feel that ACT's distinction between therapeutic and reproductive cloning will only result in a slippery slope of permitted research until serious ethical lines are crossed—if they have not been already. Therefore, Christians are arguing, morality must now establish the framework of what is permissible.

"The basic issue is this: Biotechnology offers the world extraordinary opportunities for good and also for ill," Cameron wrote this week. "As its treasure-house of opportunity is explored, we must fervently seek a responsible policy framework that will protect and enhance human dignity and not hazard it to the interests of venture capitalists and mad scientists. We need Congress to draw a line in the ethical sand and begin to build a global coalition for human dignity."

Rapid Senate approval of legislation to ban all cloning is necessary to guard life ethics, according to a statement from Douglas Johnson, legislative director of National Right to Life."This corporation is creating human embryos for the sole purpose of killing them and harvesting their cells. Unless Congress acts quickly, this corporation and others will be opening human embryo farms."

Carrie Gordon Earll, bioethics analyst for Focus on the Family, said in a press release that while ACT claims to not clone humans for birth, other groups will. The line, she said, must be drawn now.

"The pace of science is rapidly passing the social bounds of ethics and morality. It is time for public policy to set reasonable limits to advance the preservation of life and protect human dignity," Earll said.

Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, said Christians have waited long enough to act. "Christians have known about the threat posed by cloning for five years," he said Tuesday in a BreakPoint radio commentary. "Yet, in my travels across the country, I've sensed very little interest in the issue. This apathy has to end now. We can no longer afford to sit on our hands while biotech companies, motivated solely by the bottom line, threaten our humanity."

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Human Dignity and the Embryo

A bottom line for Kilner's argument—and for many Christians responding this week—is simply the morality of tampering with human embryos. "The entity that is you or me did not come into existence until our unique genetic code became active within an embryo, directing our development," Kilner wrote. "Being attached to a woman's uterus made no difference in that starting point--it just gave us the support we needed to keep developing."

In the ATC announcement Sunday, chief executive officer Michael West defended the use of cloned embryos for research. "Scientifically, biologically, the entities we are creating are not individuals," he said. "They're only cellular life."

Focus on the Family's bioethics analyst Carrie Gordon Earll said West's rationale is dangerous. "This is human experimentation, pure and simple," she said in a released statement. "To say that these embryos are 'cellular' life, but not human life is to engage in a game of semantics. Every one of us started out as embryos. To redefine life in any other terms puts all life at risk."

Family Research Council President Ken Connor said the prospect of human cloning presents other troubling issues as well:

It's an attack on the family. It blows apart the notion of family relationships (for example, who is the father of a cloned woman? Is her clone her daughter or her sister?). It also introduces serious legal questions, for example, involving inheritance and custody rights.

Christians must protect how science views individual human lives, said Tim Wildmon, vice-president of the American Family Association, in a statement released Tuesday. "In addition to tampering with nature in a most profound and disturbing way, we are confronted with the prospect of farming humans as though they are mink providing us with winter coats," he said. "The unmistakable conclusion to draw from this is that humanity is regarded by some scientists and corporations as no better than lab rats."

Todd Hertz is assistant online editor of Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere

Also appearing on our site this week:

Weblog: Human Cloning's 'Success' | Human embryos cloned for 1st time

CT Classic: Doctors Under Oath | Modern medicine has misplaced its moral compass. Can Hippocrates help?

Books & Culture Corner: "24 Cow Clones, All Normal" … | Oh yes, and a few cloned human embryos that died.

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Christianity Today recommended against human cloning in a 1997 editorial, "Stop Cloning Around."

See our October cover story, "A Matter of Life and Death: Why shouldn't we use our embryos and genes to make our lives better? The world awaits a Christian answer."

Articles on Sunday's Advanced Cell Technology announcement include: Reuters, AP, The Washington Post, USA Today, Los Angeles Times,New York Times,Boston Globe,BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and Wired News.

Coverage of criticism and debate following the announcement include: Reuters, AP, BBC, CNN, and CNSNews.

While a cloning ban may be delayed in the U.S. Senate, emergency legislation in the United Kingdom has gained the backing of peers in the House of Lords. Other countries are also considering bans.

Recent columns and editorials on cloning include:

Ban cloning, not stem-cell research — James C. Greenwood, The Philadelphia Inquirer (Nov. 28, 2001)

Cloning's Embryonic EthicsChristian Science Monitor (Nov. 27, 2001)

The cloning genie is out of the bottleThe Boston Herald (Nov. 27, 2001)

Don't mix science and religion — Joan Ryan, The San Francisco Chronicle (Nov. 27, 2001)

Cloning to save livesThe Boston Globe (Nov. 27, 2001)

Cloning PanicThe Washington Post (Nov. 27, 2001)

Science and ethics at odds?The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Nov. 27, 2001)

Stem cells and cloningThe Chicago Tribune (Nov. 27, 2001)

Yahoo's full coverage has current news articles and opinion pieces on human cloning.

For explanations on how cloning is accomplished, see Conceiving a Clone, Science Matters, and How Cloning Works.

Recent Christianity Today articles on cloning and bioethics include:

The New Tyranny | Biotechnology threatens to turn humanity into raw material. (Oct. 5, 2001)

Gen-Etiquette | Scientists may be mapping the genome, but it will be up to us to determine where the map will lead. (Oct. 4, 2001)

Manipulating the Linguistic Code | Religious language falling into the hands of scientists can be a fearful thing. (Oct. 4, 2001)

Times Fifty | Can a clone be an individual? A short story. (Oct. 2, 2001)

The Genome Doctor | The director of the National Human Genome Research Institute answers questions about the morality of his work. (Oct. 1, 2001)

Wanna Buy a Bioethicist? (Editorial) | Some corporations have discovered that bioethics makes good public relations. (Sept. 28, 2001)

Two Cheers | President Bush's stem-cell decision is better than the fatal cure many sought. (August 10, 2001)

House Backs Human Cloning Ban | Scientists say they'll go ahead anyway. (August 27, 2001)

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Embryos Split Prolifers | Bush decision pleases some, keeps door open for disputed research. (August 27, 2001)

House of Lords Legalizes Human Embryo Cloning | Religious leaders' protests go unheeded by lawmakers. (Feb. 2, 2001)

Britain Debates Cloning of Human Embryos | Scientists want steady stream of stem cells for "therapeutic" purposes. (Nov. 22, 2000)

Tissue of Lies? | Latest stem-cell research shows no urgent need to destroy human embryos for the cause of science. (Sept. 28, 2000)

Beyond the Impasse to What? | Stem-cell research may not need human embryos after all. But why are we researching in the first place? (Aug. 18, 2000)

Thus Spoke Superman | Troubling language frames the stem-cell debate. (June 13, 2000)

New Stem-Cell Research Guidelines Criticized | NIH guidelines skirt ethical issues about embryo destruction, charge bioethicists. (Feb. 7, 2000)

Human Embryo Research Resisted (August 9, 1999)

Editorial: The Biotech Temptation (July 12, 1999)

Embryo Research Contested (May 24, 1999)