“Here a Sheep, There a Sheep, Everywhere a Sheep, Sheep”

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken March 9, 1997

I am opening this window on the world by popular demand. In the last two weeks I have been inundated with requests (many of them accompanied by articles) to do a Window on the World on cloning. As you must know by now, scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland have unveiled a 7-month old sheep which is an exact genetic replica of her mother.

Here is how they did it. First, they removed cells from the udder of an adult sheep, a white Finn Dorset ewe. Each cell was immersed in chemicals to make it dormant and stop it from dividing. Meanwhile, an unfertilized egg cell was taken from a Scottish Blackface ewe. The nucleus of the egg cell was extracted, including its DNA. Then the two cells were placed next to one another and charged with an electric pulse to fuse them together. A second electrical pulse reactivated the DNA from the original sheep and the cell began to grow and divide.

A week later the new embryo was implanted in the uterus of yet a third Blackface sheep. After gestation, the surrogate mother gave birth to a lamb named Dolly. There are no genetic similarities between the lamb and its Blackface birth mother. Instead, the lamb is genetically identical to the Finn Dorset from which the DNA was originally taken.

This is not the first time scientists have been able to make a clone. Beginning in the 1950’s they have cloned frogs, pigs, cows and (most recently) monkeys. But up until now the clones have only been made from embryos. What is unique about Dolly is that she was cloned from the genetic material of an adult mammal.

The cloning of a mature animal raises dozens of scientific, ethical and spiritual questions. The first question one asks is “Will there ever be another me?” In other words, “Is it possible to clone a human being?” That is a scientific question I am not qualified to answer. Scientists say that it is now theoretically possible to use the same technique on human beings. But we will not know for certain until someone actually does it, if someone hasn’t done it already.

Scientists involved in cloning research are quick to dismiss the possibility of human clones. They have no intention of cloning human beings, they say. There is no good reason for anyone to try it, they say. Ian Wilmut, the mastermind behind the sheep clone is not worried about the possibility because he believes that “we are a moral species.” Such scientists are extremely naïve about human depravity. What we are is an immoral species. Of course someone will try to clone a human being, if only to be the first one to do it. Someone, somewhere, will be unable to resist the notoriety of cloning another human being… or himself.

Would a human clone still be made in the image of God? Yes, of course. A clone would be able to sing the words of Psalm 139 with full confidence:

You created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body (Ps. 139:13-16a).

Scientific procedures are not exempt from the creative providence of God. Clone or no clone, a human being with a mind, a heart and especially a soul is a person made in the image of God.

Furthermore, a human clone would still be a unique individual. A person is vastly more than the sum total of his or her DNA. Clones would be different persons because they would have different experiences. Since they would be born at different times they would be even less identical than identical twins, and anyone who knows identical twins knows that they are their own persons. Twins also make their own spiritual choices, as Jacob and Esau so powerfully demonstrate (Gen. 25:21-28; cf. Rom. 9:10-12). It may turn out to be possible to clone human DNA, but it will never be possible to clone a human person.

Would it be wrong to clone a human being? Americans are instinctively opposed to the idea. This week our President followed the lead of several European nations by banning the use of federal funds for research on human cloning. We feel like cloning is wrong, but why is it wrong?

One biblical principle which may explain why cloning a human being would be wrong is the principle of “one flesh.” This is what the Bible says about the marriage of a husband and wife: a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Gen. 2:24). The cloning of a human being violates that one-flesh principle. Either a clone has no biological father or it has no biological mother. As a cell biologist from Missouri observed, if cloning were perfected, “there’d be no need for men.” Instead of producing a new human being out of the union of a man and a woman, cloning would simply reproduce the man or the woman.

God’s design for procreation is infinitely more fascinating than cloning, not to mention more pleasurable. Instead of simply replicating one person’s genes, God produces an entirely new person out of the combination of two people. And he uses sexual intercourse to do it. Scientists are the ones bringing us reproduction without sex, not God.

Another reason why trying to clone a human being would be immoral is that it would involve the wanton destruction of human embryos. Dolly was the lucky one. She beat the odds. Nearly 300 cells were taken from her mother and implanted in egg cells from other sheep. Out of 277 tries only 29 embryos survived a week or more. And of those 29 embryos only one made it to birth. The rest were defective, abnormal, or sick. They were wasted along the way. To do such a thing to sheep is to take bad care of creation. To do such a thing to human beings would be monstrous.

We have not heard the last of cloning. More questions need to be asked and answered about its implications, which is why we need to keep thinking about it from a biblical point of view.

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