By Lisa Seachrist
WASHINGTON — The appearance of sheep-clone Dolly set off a worldwide debate over the morals and ethics of cloning human beings. Some argued that the prospect was repugnant while others heralded Dolly as giving new hope to infertile couples.
When members of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission looked this week to four major religious traditions for guidance, they found that religious perspectives offered the same pluralisms.
Bound by a May 26 deadline for making recommendations to President Clinton, the commission entertained views from the Catholic, Jewish, Protestant and Islamic traditions while asking law, philosophy and ethics professors to make arguments about the risks and benefits of creating a child that is the clone of an adult human.
Speakers representing the Catholic and Protestant faiths presented strikingly similar arguments against the prospect of cloning humans. Their concerns rested mainly with a potential loss of human dignity and devaluation of the family because the process of creating a clone is so unnatural and the motivations behind creating such a clone may allow people to view clones as somehow less human.
"A child springs from the giving and receiving of love through a sexual union," Gilbert Meilaender, professor of religion at Valpraiso University who represented the Protestant perspective, said. "In that fashion, children are begotten, not made. In other words, there is a quality of equality of being between a parent and a child. A child is not a project or a product."
Because cloning frees humans from the reliance on another human being to reproduce, Lisa Sowle-Cahill, a professor of religion at Boston University representing the Catholic tradition, argued that the process devalues the concept of families. "Cloning is a violation of the family because that cloned individual has a biogenetic link to only one person," Sowle-Cahill said.
Commission member Steve Holtzman, chief business officer of Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., asked Sowle-Cahill if her objections to the cloning arise from the source of the donor DNA. "We can twin embryos, but in your view is the somatic cell where the rubber hits the road?" he asked.
"I am not sure that I can get distinctive moral differences between twinning an embryo and cloning," Sowle-Cahill said. "But, such an embryo would have two biogenetic parents whereas a clone has only one."
Both faith traditions worried that a child conceived by cloning would suffer from the expectations and comparison to the donor. Such expectations and hubris from the donor may allow humans to come to view clones as somehow less than equal.
"No human being can be produced for a predetermined purpose," said Princeton Theological Seminary professor, Nancy Duff.
The Rev. Dr. Albert Moraczweski, speaking for the National Council of Bishops, agreed but asserted that a clone would still, by definition, be human. "Let me be very clear, in no way is the human dignity of a cloned person diminished," he said.
All of the speakers for the Christian faiths supported research efforts that would not result in the birth of a human clone. "Cloning a human being can be and should be distinguished from disease therapies," Sowle-Cahill noted.
However, Moraczweski noted that the Catholic Church opposes research on human embryos.
The Jewish tradition doesn't have the same concerns about disrupting the natural process of reproduction with human cloning. Both Elliot Dorff, professor of religion at the University of Judaism, in Los Angeles, and Moshe Tendler, rabbi and professor of biology at Yeshiva University, in New York, noted that in the Jewish tradition it is man's role to master the world.
"In the Jewish tradition, we have a duty to be constructive in this world," Tendler said.
Dorff had the same concerns that a clone may suffer excess conflict with his or her parent. "Psychologists tell us that you usually have the most trouble with the child most like you," Dorff said.
However, he noted that the clone would not be identical simply because it had the same genes and that we may come to more appreciate nurturing. "Ironically, cloning may be very healthy for us as a society because it forces us to acknowledge that our identity is not just our bodies," Dorff said.
Dorff also maintained that banning research may force it underground where ethics could not guide the research decisions. "If we don't allow cloning under some restriction, it will happen without restriction," he said.
Tendler pointed to the good reasons to do cloning and embryo research. "You cannot study the cancer cell without the understanding of the development of the normal cells," he said. "When you make rules for cloning, you must be sure that you don't restrict embryo research."
"Show me a young man who is infertile and his family is wiped in the holocaust, and I would definitely clone him," Tendler said. "We respect the genetic lines of endangered species; we must also respect the genetic lines of humans."
Aziz Sachedina, a professor religion at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, offered an Islamic interpretation of the ethical problems of cloning. Islam would have little issue with cloning as it pertains to embryo research, he noted, "In Islam, there are two stages of pregnancy and ensoulment takes place at the end of the fourth month."
Sachedina noted that Islam would approve of cloning if it were to help an infertile couple because the efforts of man cannot supplant the efforts of God. Like the Jewish tradition, in Islam, human beings can actively engage creatively to improve human health. "But, a human being cannot willfully create unless God also wills it," Sachedina said.
However, interpersonal relationships are essential to the faith, Sachedina noted stating that cloning could cause problems in determining a child's proper lineage. "In Islam, the child belongs to the father," he said. "As long as the lineage of the child remains unblemished, cloning would be acceptable."
With no clear answer from the four major religions, the commission's task of coming up with ethical guidelines for a pluralistic society produced empathy from those who testified this week.
Moraczweski noted, "Cloning may be a way of saving endangered species, but it is not a way for improving the human race. And, it will take the wisdom of Solomon and more to guide this commission to come up with recommendations that permits research while protecting human rights." *