In Our Own Image: Human Cloning
When Aldous Huxley depicted a Brave New World, he envisioned the following conversation:
Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!” The voice was almost tremulous with enthusiasm. “…For the first time in history.” He quoted the planetary motto. “‘Community, Identity, Stability’…Solved by standard Gammas, unvarying Deltas, uniform Epsilons. Millions of identical twins. The principle of mass production at last applied to biology.” (1)
Those who read Brave New World when it was first published most likely considered it in much the same way that people today view a movie like “The Matrix.” Well done, yes. Insightful, sure. But prophetic? The idea that in the not too distant future Huxley’s fiction would be on the verge of becoming fact probably would have surprised many of his book’s original readers.
But science often moves so fast that the facts become stranger than fiction. When Dolly, a cloned sheep, was revealed to the general public, she caught people off guard. Many had no idea what to think about this “breakthrough.” Most hadn’t even realized that such technological capability existed outside Jurassic Park.
If ever there was a time to develop an opinion of human cloning, it is now, before the hare of science races ahead of the tortoise of ethics once again. Jewish opinion on cloning is split. There is obviously no halachic stipulation regarding human cloning, so some, like Dr. Daniel Eisenberg of the Institute for Jewish Medical Ethics, are hesitant to get off the fence. He writes:
There is no clear consensus yet in Jewish law regarding cloning. Since the technology to clone people is not yet a reality, the issue is an academic one, not a practical one…Jewish law, which relies strongly upon precedent (much like secular law), has no actual cases that have been decided…Many technical issues of Jewish law will have to be resolved before a final consensus is reached. (2)
Orthodox Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, director of the Beth Din of America and senior lecturer in law at Emory University School of Law, writes in his Cloning People and Jewish Law: A Preliminary Analysis:
Jewish law insists that new technologies-and particularly new reproductive technologies-are neither definitionally prohibited nor definitionally permissible in the eyes of Jewish law, but rather subject to a case by case analysis. Nonetheless, every legal, religious, or ethical system has to insist that advances in technologies be evaluated against its moral systems. (3)
Rabbi Broyde makes a valid point. We need to re-examine our ethical standards, and to measure scientific and technological advances against those standards, even if such advances are in the theoretical stage. Otherwise, we are susceptible to the “do first, ask questions later” syndrome. Rabbi Broyde continues by pointing out the ethical dilemma cloning presents:
In the case of cloning…the Jewish tradition is betwixt and between two obligations. On one side is the general Jewish obligation to help those who are in need…On the other side is the general inherent moral conservatism associated with the Jewish tradition’s insistence that there is an objective God-given morality, and that not everything that humanity wants or can do is proper. (4)
The Pros and Cons of Cloning
According to proponents and protesters, human cloning has potential advantages and disadvantages.
Those defending human cloning point to these positive possibilities:
- Cloning would enable infertile couples to have children that resemble at least one of the parents.
- Cloning would give couples who are at risk of producing a child with a genetic defect the chance to produce a healthy child.
- Cloning could show us more about how genes work and lead to the discovery of new treatments for genetic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that affect millions of people.
Those in favor of cloning argue that cloning may just be the answer to many of our genetic problems. Furthermore, they maintain that objections to cloning are similar to objections raised against previous scientific achievements, such as heart transplants and in vitro fertilization, procedures that later came to be widely accepted.
Those opposed to human cloning counter with these concerns:
- Cloning might lead to eugenics, an attempt to improve the human race according to an arbitrary standard.
- Cloning is unsafe. There are many unknown factors that could adversely affect cloned offspring.
- Cloning might lead to the creation of genetically engineered groups of people for specific purposes, such as warfare or slavery, or doctors could produce clones for the sheer purpose of removing their organs for use in organ transplants.
- A clone might have a diminished sense of individuality.
If we were to evaluate whether human cloning should be done based simply on the above list of advantages and disadvantages, it might seem that the issue is a veritable toss-up. A pros vs. cons analysis, though, does not answer the question, “Is cloning good or bad?”
What need to be analyzed are the underlying assumptions made by those advocating human cloning. If substantial ethical objections can be made to these assumptions, then it matters not whether there are more benefits to cloning, but whether the principles behind the procedure are right or wrong.
Assumption #1: Knowledge takes precedence over wisdom.
Our race to clone exemplifies the prevalent notion that what we have the money and intellectual ability to do, we are obligated to do in the name of progress. In other words, the more we know, the better off we are.
There are people currently working tirelessly to produce the first human clone, regardless of public reservations and legislation proposed to halt the process. Lee M. Silver, biologist at Princeton University, predicts that the first cloned human will quietly make its way into the population when no one is looking. “Those who want to clone themselves or their children will not be impeded by governmental laws or regulations,” he wrote. “The marketplace—not government or society—will control cloning. And if cloning is banned in one place, it will be made available somewhere else.” (5) Groups such as members of the Raelian sect in Canada, well-funded and fanatical about the prospect of cloning, are evidence of this. There’s really nothing to keep those with enough money and information from proceeding.
But the idea that intellectual and monetary capacity are criteria for judging whether or not an action should be taken, is no more acceptable than the notion that “might always makes right.”
Unchecked and unhindered knowledge has the potential for great destruction. One would think that we simply do not have time to consider the consequences of cloning, but really, what’s the hurry? There are those who feel, based on their ethical or religious system, that everything that is not forbidden is permissible, but even still, one does not have to go far to find evidence that it is better to exercise caution, especially in the area of science.
Cases such as the United States’ use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are, at the very least, reminders that there can be serious consequences to human life when new technology is unleashed.
The Hebrew Scriptures also advise us to look before we leap toward slippery slopes of consequences we cannot predict: “A person without knowledge is surely not good; he who moves hurriedly blunders” (Proverbs 19:2).
The Bible does not discourage us from obtaining more knowledge, but we are told that knowledge—the understanding of information about a subject that has been obtained by experience or study—is most beneficial when married to wisdom—the right use or exercise of that knowledge, and that to separate them is folly. In the Torah, we see this precedent unfold in the Tower of Babel episode. The people’s knowledge became divorced from their wisdom. The result? Pride that led ultimately to confusion and destruction.
When it comes to technology that involves people, wisdom tells us that we cannot tread too carefully.
Assumption #2: Life can be expendable when the greater good is in question.
Those for whom the Scriptures are not a standard would perhaps prefer to measure the worth of an action or issue with another ruler, such as utility—the idea that something is good if it allows for the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Another way to state this is to say that we should always act in the best interest of the majority. While this reasoning is often suitable, history shows us that such thinking can be dangerous for cases such as cloning. People in the minority can be subjected to anything—the worst possible oppression or even death—if it is beneficial to the majority. Reprehensible movements in history such as Nazi Germany and U.S. slavery were falsely justified using this way of thinking. Hitler was persuaded that if the Aryan race were to reign supreme, it would be the best thing for the world. Slaveholders argued that slavery was a beneficial system for a capitalist society. (6)
With such deplorable precedents in our history, it should not surprise us that there are those who are willing and anxious to experiment casually with human life as though people were no more than sheep. The disposing of life is viewed as acceptable if it is in the best interest of the majority.
It is important to know that it took almost three hundred failed attempts before Dolly was successfully cloned. Experts are still unsure of how fit she is. Many duplications of the animal cloning effort have resulted in the premature and often inexplicable death of the clones. To try such methods out on humans without being able to predict the outcome is light years beyond irresponsible; it is criminal. Arthur Caplan, ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, says: “[Human cloning] would be barbaric…It would be killing fetuses and embryos for no purpose, none, except for curiosity. But if you can’t agree that that’s wrong to do, and if the media can’t agree to condemn rather than gawk, that’s condemnation of us all.” (7)
Jewish tradition is in line with Caplan’s statement. We are taught that each life is significant. Those who believe in God as the creator of life, also believe that people are created in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Jewish writers in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament portion of the Bible periodically testify to the unparalleled worth of human life.
Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
He made man. (Genesis 9:6)I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…(Psalm 139:14)
And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered…(Matthew 10:30)
The Talmud tells us, “To save one life is as if you have saved the entire world” (Sanhedrin 5:1).
If we believe that, then we cannot condone human cloning or any technology that threatens to destroy life on its way to achieving a “greater good.”
Assumption #3: Humanity can ultimately attain perfection.
Critics of cloning have argued that this type of reproductive technology is in essence “playing God.” One of the most compelling aspects of cloning is that it implies that eventually, once all the “wrinkles” are “ironed out,” we can have complete control over the reproductive process. Many people suppose this is optimal and state that the more we know about genes, and the more we are able to manipulate them, the better for humanity. Procreation will be far more predictable, since it will be left entirely in the hands of science, as opposed to the “gamble” of the normal reproductive process.
If this sounds reminiscent of eugenics (attempting to scientifically improve the human race according to arbitrary standards) that’s because it is. The underlying assumption is that people are more or less desirable depending on their DNA. Why would someone want to risk producing a physically disabled child, or a child with slightly less intelligence, or a child who is legally blind, when they don’t have to? The assumption is that a child or person with any sort of deficiency is doomed to a life less abundant, less fulfilling, less happy.
But consider the contributions of Stephen Hawking, who suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease, or of a deaf man named Beethoven, or Franklin Roosevelt and Itzhak Perlman, who both lost the use of their legs to polio, or Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, and Walt Disney, who all had learning disabilities. Each might beg to differ with the assumption that the quality of his life is less than anybody else’s.
Nor does it seem like this is God’s point of view. Think of the flawed people he used to accomplish his purposes, people like Moses, who was “slow of speech,” or little David. Even the Messiah, according to what was written by the prophet Isaiah, “…has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to him” (Isaiah 53:2). God can do amazing things through men and women we would hesitate to cast in the roles of heroes or heroines. What we view as accidents of nature, or mistakes to be eradicated from the gene pool, God can and does use. The real danger in cloning is not that we “play God” so much as we forget God, and what he accomplishes.
We cheat ourselves when we assume that biology is our destiny and science alone can help us overcome it. Life always entails risks and challenges due to our environment. No matter whom we choose to clone, be it Michael Jordan or Mother Theresa, there are no guarantees. Let’s face it: we will never have complete control over certain circumstances. We will never have full control over our lives.
Assumption #4: Humanity is basically good and can be trusted to properly use science most of the time.
Perhaps it’s for our own good that we aren’t given such control over our lives and the lives of others. Consider Huxley’s ironically titled Brave New World. His isn’t the only gloomy prognosis for a future fraught with problems. A world that would never duplicate a Helen Keller cannot be trusted with such a powerful tool as human cloning technology. The advent of human cloning demonstrates that we are desperately searching for solutions. We are on a continual quest for perfection, whatever we deem that to be.
But even if we could attain physical perfection through genetic manipulation and cloning, we could not attain moral perfection, which may be why we were not given the ability or authority to clone ourselves in the first place. When we were created, it was in the image of God. When God fashioned Eve’s flesh from Adam’s flesh and her bone from Adam’s bone, he created something beautiful and unique; he did not intend for us to be copies of each other. And it only took him one try.
But sin entered our world and corrupted our nature. (It should not take much more than looking at the world around us to convince us of this.) Even if we have the best of intentions, we cannot always be trusted to temper our knowledge with wisdom.
Conclusion: Regeneration, not Replication
So it seems that rather than cloning ourselves, we should be seeking a solution to becoming better people, the type who could be trusted not to abuse our knowledge or thoughtlessly dispose of life. But how? The answer is that God has given us a way to be transformed and renewed through the only perfect person who ever lived, the one known as God’s only begotten son, Yeshua (Jesus).
God commanded us to reflect his righteousness, to be holy as he is holy, but he knows we all fall short of perfection. The prophet Isaiah wrote that even our “righteous acts” are “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Jeremiah wrote that our hearts are not only wicked; they are deceitful. (8) We trick our own selves. So how can we clone ourselves after our creator, and become better people, sinless people on our own? Scripture tells us we need new hearts. (9)
Yeshua offered to give us a new heart and a new life if only we accept that he is who he claimed to be: our Messiah. (10) He was not talking about giving us a genetically engineered organ replacement, but a supernatural restoration. Through accepting Yeshua’s sacrificial death as the atonement for our sins, we are seen as righteous in God’s eyes. When he looks at us, he sees precious individuals re-created in his image, the way we were designed to be before sin entered our world. Our creator longs to see a population of people who have been regenerated, not replicated—a brave new world indeed.
How to Clone a Human
Every cell in our bodies contains the genetic coding (DNA: deoxyribonucleic acid) for our entire physical make-up. A kidney cell contains the DNA for eye color, hair color, intelligence, etc. During prenatal development, all but one of the thousands of characteristics encoded on the DNA strand are silenced. The cell that becomes a kidney ignores the voices of the other DNA information, and only pays attention to the kidney DNA.
During cloning, one cell from a part of an adult body is stimulated so that the thousands of other traits “wake up” so an entire creature can develop from this single cell. The process involves three basic steps:
1. The DNA is removed from a female egg. The egg is now a hollow shell, contributing no genetic characteristics of the egg donor.
2. The reactivated adult cell is fused into the hollow egg via an electric current.
3. The fertilized egg is implanted into another female’s womb. What develops is genetically the identical twin of the original cell donor.
1. Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London: Flamingo, 1994. p. 5.
2. “The Ethics of Cloning,” Daniel Eisenberg, M.D., The Institute for Jewish Medical Ethics of the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco.
3. “Cloning People and Jewish Law: A Preliminary Analysis,” Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, Jewish Law.
5. Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World, Lee M. Silver, New York: Avon Books, 1997, p. 35.
6. William J. Grayson defended slavery as reasonable for the majority of American society, saying, “[Slavery] is the only condition of society in which labour and capital are associated on a large scale in which their interests are combined and not in conflict. Every plantation is an organized community…where all work, where each member gets subsistence and a home and the more industrious larger pay and profits to their own superior industry.” Quoted in Genovese, Eugene D. The Slaveholder’s Dilemma: Freedom and Progress in Southern Conservative Thought, 1820-1860, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1992, p. 71.
7. Quoted in “Cloning: The Ignored Factor” by Reuven P. Bulka, The Jewish Week, March 23, 2001.
8. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
9. “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)
10. “[Yeshua] saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done…but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit…” (Titus 3:5) “Therefore if anyone is in [Messiah], he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)