Cloning Human Beings





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Cloning Human Beings

by Dr Alex Tang

Star Wars Episode II: Attacks of the Clones hit the cinemas in July 2002 and became one the much watched and talked-about movies in 2002. In the story, Count Doulos commissioned a secret army of clones for the Republic. The clones were made from genetic materials of Jango Fett, a bounty hunter noted for his aggressiveness and ruthlessness. As followers of the Star Wars saga will know, these clones became the storm troopers of the Empire. What is interesting that arises from this movie and the discussions that surround it is that nobody raised an eyebrows about the making of the clones. Even though it is a science fiction movie, people has come to accept clones and cloning as an acceptable facts of life.

Aldous Huxley, in his book Brave New World introduced an utopian world where the people are clones. But the idea of clones reach further back in our historical heritage. Dr. Matapurkar, a surgeon told The Times of India, that he believed cloned people walked the streets of India thousands of years ago. He pointed out that in the Mahabharata, a book of Hindu scriptures dealing largely with events in 5000 BC, records the tale of a group of 100 brothers called the Kaurvas. He believed that they were clones.


Fundamentals of Cloning

The word ‘clone’ is derived form the Greek word, klon, meaning ‘twig’, ‘slip’ or ‘cutting’. The online Webster dictionary defined clone as ‘an individual grown from a single somatic cell of its parent and genetically identical to it’.  To clone is to reproduce by asexual means with the end product being an individual or individuals that is derived from a single parent and is genetically identical to that parent. In nature, many lower organisms reproduce by cloning (asexual reproduction), for example amoeba and frogs. In higher organisms, the development of monozygotic, identical twins, triplets or quadriplets can also be regarded as a form of cloning. In this case, the fertilised egg immediately spits into two (twins), three(triplets) , four (quadriplets) and so one. All the results eggs have identical genetic material and will develop into identical twins or triplets that we are so familiar with. So far, we have no problems with cloning in nature.


Dolly and Polly

In February 1997, Ian Wilmut and his research team from Roslin Institute in Edinburgh shook the world when they reported that they have created a cloned sheep named Dolly. Wilmut and his co-workers reported that they had successfully transplanted a nucleus (C) from a somatic cells [mature cells] from the udder of a sheep into the enucleated egg (E) [enucleated egg means an egg whose nucleus has been removed] of another sheep. During this process, the egg (C + E) became a fertilised egg and was implanted into the womb of the second sheep and grew to maturity. This process is called the ‘nuclear transfer technology’. The resulting lamb was genetically identical to C.  Wilmut reported that it took 277 ‘E+Cs’ to produce Dolly. This scientific achievement was significant for two reasons. Firstly, it proved that cloning can be achieved by introducing a donor nucleus into an enucleated egg and the resulting clone has the identical genetic profile of the donor. Secondly and more important, it was proved that with the necessary stimulation, it was possible to reprogram a mature mammalian cells to differentiate and grow like ‘germ or stem or egg’ cells. Biology books have to rewritten because it was formerly thought that only egg cells can differentiate into other cells thereby producing a baby and that mature cells like bone cells or skin cells cannot differentiate anymore.

In July the same year, Polly was created by the same nuclear transfer technology in a farm in Scotland. Unlike Dolly, Polly also contains human genes. In biotechnological terms, Polly is a ‘transgenic’ animal. The presence of human genes in Polly enables her to produce valuable proteins in her milk. These proteins will be extracted from the milk and be used to treated a whole range of serious human illness such as cystic fibrosis and haemophilia. Research are being done to create transgenic animals to produce human plasma for transfusion. At present, a receiver of human plasma transfusion runs the risk of receiving plasma contaminated with AIDS virus. Plasma from a transgenic animal will be free of such risk.


Types of Cloning

With the available technology, it will not be long before someone will proceed to clone human beings. Although there are stringent laws and guidelines in some part of the world, it is inevitable that someone will try. On 13 October 2001, Dr. Jose B .Cibelli, Dr. Robert Lanza and Dr. Michael West at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusett succeeded in growing a cloned embryo to a 6 celled stage. Their aim was to grow the embryo to a blastocyte (100 cells). Then they intended to isolate the stem cells as a starter stock for growing replacement nerve, muscles and other tissues. However, they were unable to grow a cloned embryo beyond the 6 celled stage.

 Cloning human beings is an emotive issue. Many people felt that ‘intuitively’ that is wrong but when pressed are unable to offer a reasonable explanation. Many people are unable to differentiate the fine line between science fiction and scientific facts. As Christians, we need to be clear in our thinking, guided by a Christian worldview which is formed the Scriptures and the empowering wisdom from the Holy Spirit. We cannot appeal to tradition as a clone creature is a new creation, something that never existed before in the world and we have no precedent in the Church to deal with this.

Broadly, there are three possible types of human cloning: ego cloning, reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning.

Many of us think of cloning as xeroxed people. We thinks of clones as exact replicates of ourselves. Hence ego cloning is when people, especially the rich, the famous or the powerful will think of producing a clone of themselves to take over and to continue what they have started. Unfortunately, that is a fallacy. The clone may be genetic identical to the original. However that is where the similarity ends. The clone will have different experiences and memories, different perceptions and different likes and dislikes. It will not be identical to the original. The clone is a person and a person is one is has the ability or the potential of independent thought, to interaction and be influenced by other people and their environments. Studies done of identical twins has shown that even though they shared the same genetic materials, they are individual persons; having the ability for independent thinking, being responsible for their actions and their relationship to God. Another question often raised is whether a clone person has a soul. Theologians has agreed that twins or triplets  or other multiples have souls and they have all complete souls, not half soul or one third souls. Every person is an embodied soul, a complete soul. The argument can be extended to a clone, if one should ever exist (we are still dealing with the speculative). A clone with a complete genetic material of a human being should be human and a person, thereby should be accorded all the rights of a human being. Being a human being, he or she will bear the image of God and will ultimately be responsible to God.


The other common perception of danger of ego cloning is the making of a ‘master race’. With cloning and certain genetic manipulation, if was speculated that we could identify the features that we want in our clones for examples, blue eyes, blond hair and high intelligence. The Human Genome , one of the greatest genetic project in the Twentieh Century has studied the 24 chromosomes: 22 autosomes and 2 sex chromosomes of a human being. The project has, out of 3.1 billion base pairs in 1 chromosome set (2 sets per genome), has decoded 50,000 to 100,000 genes, representing less than 5% of total sequence of base pairs. Genes determining physical characteristics like blue eyes or blond hair has been identified. But genes dealing with intelligence is more illusive. And it has be discovered that genes interact with each other in ways we still do not understand so changing a gene in one region will develop unexpected changes in other areas. We are still a far way from the ego cloning of cerebrity or creation of a master race of superhumans.


Reproductive cloning is the introduction a cloned embryo into a woman’s womb leading to the birth of a cloned baby. Once the technical problem of nurturing a cloned fertilised cell beyond the 8 cells stage has been overcome, reproductive cloning may be a reality in 10 years. There are a few reasons why people may opt for cloning of themselves. Firstly, in infertile couples that has attempted the various latest reproductive technologies and still fail to produce a child. The couple may, as the last resort, ask to clone one of themselves. Secondly, one of the couple may have an inherited untreatable genetic disease such as Huntington’s Disease. Wanting a child, they may opt to clone the unaffected partner. Thirdly, a family with a child needing a bone marrow transplant and unable to find a compatible donor may elect to clone a child. The clone’s bone marrow is definitely compatible. Bone marrow transplant is a safe procedure. Even today, it is not unknown that parents produce another child to be a bone marrow donor to a elder sibling with leukemia or thalessemia that needed a bone marrow transplant. On the negative side, single person or a gay/lesbian couple may want to clone one of the partner. It must be emphaised that in each of this scenerio, the clone is a child that is wanted and love. It must also be recognised that the clone is a person.


Therapeutic Cloning is that instead of cloning the whole person, the technique of nuclear transfer is used to create certain tissue or organs to be used for the person himself or herself. One has only to look at the long waiting list of people waiting for kidney and heart transplantation to appreciate the problem. Aside form the lack of donors, organ rejection is a major problems as the bodies reject the transplanted organs and the recepient have to take anti-graft rejection medication for life. Therapeutic cloning uses the genetic materials from the patient’s own cells to generate pancreatic islets to treat diabetes, nerve cells to repair damaged nerve cells, skins for burns and even organs like kidney for replacement. The benefits form this type of cloning is tremendous.

 At this moment the technology is not sophisticated enough for it. The research in this areas deals with stem cells which are immature undifferenciated cells and hence has a greater potential to grow into differentiated mature cells and form tissues or organs.


Cloning and Public Response

Most public discussion do not distinguish between ego, reproductive or therapeutic cloning. There seems to be a division between the public and the government on one hand, and the scientific community on the other hand.

In August 2000, President George Bush barred the use of federal funds for research involving stem cells derived from embryo including those generated using cloning. In the United Kingdom, in 2000 the Parliament altered its Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1990 to specifically allow human therapeutic cloning. On I November 2000, antiabortion activist have the provision struck down on the grounds that cloning does not involve an embryo created by the union of an egg and a sperm and therefore does not come under the preview of the Act. In the United States, on July 31,2001, the House of Representatives voted for a total ban on human cloning that would not only prohibit the use of cloning for reproduction but also prohibit cloning for research purposes, such as to derive stem cells that could be used in therapies. The penalties is 10 years in prison or $1 million fine for anyone generating cloned embryo. The Bush administration supports a total ban. Instead of stopping the research on cloning, it drove the scientists involved in cloning into countries like Singapore and Australia.


Christian Concerns on Cloning

In a discussion about the Christian concerns about cloning, we must be clear on which issue wee are discussing. Otherwise, the discussion will become confused and muddled.

Firstly, what is the Christian view about a grown cloned human being (should any ever be grown)? The Bible did not deal with cloning because it was not a technology available at that time. The Bible does however deals a lot about personhood – a thinking individual that is responsible for his or her action, including his or her respond to the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. A clone, by having the full genetic constituents of the origin human is a person. As we accord full personhood to twins who have the same genetic constituents.

Another argument that can be extend is that of ‘natural’ and what is not, especially in this case.  Using some medical analogies, we note that pain in childbirth is 'natural' but there is universal agreement that we should use analgesia appropriately to treat it. Surgical operations are 'unnatural' but there is universal agreement that we should use them appropriately to treat disease. Christians have a responsibility to be stewards of the whole of God's creation, and it will therefore sometimes be right to do 'unnatural' things and it will sometimes be right to prevent things happening 'naturally'. The distinction as stated is therefore not at all helpful in this debate.

Secondly, we need to separate the issue of therapeutic cloning using stem cells and the source of stem cells used in therapeutic cloning and research. Both are different. If we are to ban therapeutic cloning because of sources of stem cells, then we are throwing away the baby with the bathwater. Therapeutic cloning is a good technology which will bring great medical advances to our healthcare. The concerns of many Christian is where the stem cells for these research and biotechology comes from, and it is rightly so. Stem cells are obtained from blood from the umbilical cord, from freshly aborted embryos, extra embryos from the IVF (In vitro fertilisation) or cloned embryos. Christians generally have no problems if the stem cells are obtained from cord blood or freshly aborted embryos.  

The problem concern the extra embryos which were produced in in-vitro fertilisation and if nuclear transfer technique is used to produce a cloned embryo to be used as a stem cell. The argument is that these embryos, if giving the correct nurturing has the potential for developing into a human being. However, it is be pointed that that even though these embryos has the potential for developing into a human being, its capacity is very limited. The time to create stem cells is at the blastocyte stage where the embryo is nothing more than a cluster of cells (6-64). It cannot think or feel and even less developed as an amoeba. This is where things become confusing and we go back to the question of when do human life begins: at the time of fertilisation of the ovum by the spermatozoa, at the formation of organs or at the detection of brain activity of the fetus or at the first breath of a newborn child (which is the Judeo-Rabbinic definition).

Christians still have not come to a consensus of when human life begins. It is interesting to note that in an article in the New Straits Times, Dr. Abu Bakar from the Institute of Islamic Understanding, Malaysia wrote that according to the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, human life began at the 120th day of conception which is about the time primitive electrical brain activity can be detect from the fetus. Since we Christians do not have a consensus when human life begins, we should error on the conservative side and allow stem cells be created from cord blood and aborted embryos but not extra embryos from IVF programs and specially cloned cells.

Finally we, as Christians should affirm the sanctity of human life because we are made in the image of God. We should also affirm our stewardship of the created order where we are called to be co-creator with God. We lived in a fallen world where sin, suffering and diseases abound. It is part of our stewardship to overcome sin, relieve suffering and cure disease whenever we can. Cloning may be one of the instruments we can use.


In this article we have examined various aspect of  cloning of human beings and explored some concerns Christian has concerning cloning. We have also examined which areas of cloning is acceptable to Judeo-Christian ethics and which are problematic. This discussion is unique because our discussion is based on a presupposition. The presupposition is that it is possible to clone a human being. The discussion will be moot if we discover that for whatever reason, it is not possible to clone a human being.  

Gareth Jones, Professor in the University of Otago, New Zealand, writing in Valuing People, states that “(Cloning) fits in at one end of a well-known continuum, that extends all the way to contraception at the other end. Like all technological procedures, it confronts us with human responsibility and irresponsibility, with human wisdom and foolishness, and with the ever-present message that we are to look to God for guidance and direction. The danger in the end is that human beings think they are omnipotent and all-wise, able to do anything. Clones remind us that it is a dangerous and foolhardy illusion.”



 Cloning Timeline
1952 Briggs and King clone tadpoles
1953 Watson and Crick discover structure of DNA
1963 J.B.S. Haldane coins the term ‘clone’
1984 Steen Willardsen clones sheep from embryo cells.
1985 Steen Willardsen clones cattle from differentiated cells.
First, Prather and Eyestone clone a cow from embryo cells.
1990 Human Genome Project began.
1995 Wilmut and Campbell clone sheep from undifferentiated cells.
1996 Dolly, the first animal cloned from adult cells is born.
1997 Wilmut and Campbell created Polly, a cloned sheep with an inserted human gene.
Richard Seed announced his plans to clone a human being.
1998 Teruhiko Wakayama creates 3 generations of genetically identical
cloned mice.




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