Copyright © 1997 AFLM
July/August, 1997 Volume XII Number 7 - COVER STORY
A theological view
Paternity and Process
by Cathy Ramey
From a theological perspective, it may seem as if cloning is an easy subject to deal with. Polls taken after the announcement that an entire sheep, Dolly,1 had been cloned from an adult mammary cell showed that between 82 and 93% of those who responded voiced strong condemnation of the idea that cloning could be applied to human subjects as well as animals and plants.2
Such broad intolerance for cloning, it could be argued, might demonstrate a near universal recognition of what is right and what is wrong. After all, God has designed His creatures in such a way that we have an innate sense concerning His preferences (Rom. 1:20-21). However, universal approval or disapproval cannot be an absolute measure of the rightness of an action. The suggestion that germs could be transmitted via the skin, clothing, or objects was initially ridiculed by the medical community. The practice of surgeons washing their hands, changing garments and using sterile instruments for each patient was, in the beginning, denounced by a majority. Hitler, on the other hand, was approved by a majority. General revelation does not guarantee that what a majority are subjectively experiencing as a good or an evil is necessarily in keeping with God's moral Law.
Speaking of cloning is also difficult because while there may be critical theological literature out there which discusses cloning in general, much of the model which I present here has no common language for me to appeal to. For that reason, bear with me if it appears that I offer repetition. My point in such a brief article is to attempt to clarify what I do mean and what I do not mean without becoming entangled in lengthy explanations along the way.
I will primarily investigate only one of the concerns raised with human cloning: a question concerning the nature of such a person; is he/she image of God, or no? Finally, we will briefly examine the process in light of Scripture and Church history. Such discussion offers no end to the discourse which ought to occur in light of this technology.
First, a definition: Cloning can be the intentional or accidental replication of an organism so that what is produced is derived from an original cell and is genotypically (genetically and physically) identical to the parent organism from which the cell was obtained. Or cloning may mean that multiple offspring are derived from and produced by a single original cell, such as a fertilized egg. The clone has a genetic twin, or perhaps several.3
To be sure, a clone is more than the production of the sheep, Dolly. Other forms of reproductive cell manipulation have produced the same end, genetically identical embryos. In vitro fertilization experiments and treatment have produced a process commonly referred to as "twinning" when the early embryo develops a splitting which divides it into two, four, eight, even as many as sixteen separate, independently dividing human beings. And apart from the science lab, "cloning" in nature occurs when identical twins (triplets, etc.) are formed in utero.4
Image and Trinity
We begin to look at the theological implications of cloning by asking a question about the "product" of such a process. How do we define a human being, and would such offspring qualify?
We can start to answer the first part of the question by stating one of the basic tenets of Christian theology, that is, that God is triune in nature. He is One God, but three Persons; fully Father, fully Son, and fully Holy Spirit. His existence is not dependent upon any thing or any one, yet if it were possible to separate or remove one or two aspects of His personhood (Father, Son, or Holy Spirit), He would not exist, at least not as the God of Scripture.5
The triune nature and the interdependence which God experiences in His Persons is revealed in nature. Nathan Wood, in The Trinity in the Universe, likens this dependent three-in-oneness to space with its three dimensional nature. E. Charles Heinze explains Wood's model this way:
Consider a volume of space in the form of a cube. If we drew a line from the front lower right corner to the front upper right corner, we would say that this line denotes height. The dimension called height describes not only the edges but an infinite number of vertical measurements throughout the cube. No part of the cube is exempt from being described as height. The space of the cube is, in its entirety, described by height, so that all of the space is included in height.
Similarly, that property or dimension of space called width is demonstrated to describe all of the space, and all of the space is found to be width. The third dimension, length, also describes all of the space, and the space is likewise all length. All of this is simply to say that space is three dimensional. This is the nature of space_all of space. . . .
In space we observe inherent and inseparable threeness and oneness, plurality and unity, otherness and identity.6
So it is with space. So it is with God. And so it is with man. Wood's model may serve to help us see that man too, by his very nature, has an individuality to him that is expressed and dependent upon a plurality, yet it is expressed in unity so that we say he is one man. Man is not woman, yet, by God's intentional design, he is dependent in every way upon woman, which, for the present, we can call "mother." Without mother, man could not exist.
Likewise, he is wholly dependent upon man, which, again for the present, we can call "father." Without father, man could not exist.
And finally, he is wholly dependent upon God and could not exist apart from God. In fact, Scripture remarks on His paternity in the beginning of the process when the Triune God states that man is to be made "in our image" (Gen. 1:26-27). We surmise through the whole of Scripture that in our image refers to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the context of Genesis chapter one. But we might also say that in our image finds an analogy in nature to man, woman, and God as they are expressed in human offspring. God elected to maintain His "image" through the creation of offspring through union of male and female.
And Scripture affirms that reproduction is not merely a process which operates on auto-pilot. God remains involved in the creation of each person (Gen. 21:1-2; 29:31-30:24; Num. 11:12; Ruth 4:13; 1 Sam. 1:6, 2:20-21; Ps. 100:3; Lk 1:24-25,58; ). I cite at length, because even in the Christian community there is often the unspoken sense that the production of a baby is a human endeavor apart from any direct and conscious contribution from God.7 Martin Luther warned believers in his day against such thinking when he wrote, "The heathen who have not been instructed by the Word of God, believe that the propagation of the human race happens partly by nature, partly by accident, especially since those who are regarded as most suited for procreation often fail to have children."8
Male and female alone do not suffice. Man is continually searching for his third Parent, in a manner of speaking. His history and personhood are incomplete apart from a recognition of his origin and dependence upon God. We see this yearning for an understanding of origin and wholeness in the universal proliferation of religions, deviating from true knowledge of God, of course, but still expressions of that longing to be connected to all of our parentage.
The analogy of Trinity works only so far, i.e., man is not "fully" mother, father, or God in the absolute sense in which God is fully Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Rather, in man the analogy expresses an interdependency for existence which is key. This interdependent genetic and spiritual relationship is what brings forth a definable human being.
Immediately the question arises: Can cloning of a human being occur outside the context of this triunity? In other words, does cloning exclude man, woman, or God in such a way that we would say that what is produced in the cloning process is not quite human; that the researcher has indeed independently created a new life form?
Though arrogance might tempt him to respond, "Yes," the answer is a resounding "No." Try though he might, the scientist cannot clone9 a human cell and ever rid the outcome of its inherent woman or man contribution. We call this contribution genetic inheritance. It remains as potent as ever, no matter that cells may be cloned from a woman, and so on. We label this gene transmission and the inheritance of traits; no person comes into being in isolation from the contribution passed on by fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. A cell which is prompted to divide multiple times over in a petri dish will continue to carry equal contributions of father and mother, no matter how many divisions are made.
So, imagine that cloning involves taking a cell from woman and transplanting its nucleus into the egg cell of another woman. Will the so-called "product" or offspring be woman + woman? Woman + woman + God? Has man been eliminated? No. His contribution is inseparable and equal to the genetic inheritance of woman in the donor nucleus. Human male and female remain; God's original order is satisfied in the physical (genetic) sense, and the "clone" is equal to a person who has been created in the image of God.
Problem with process
Now, does the fact that the offspring of such a process are image of God mean that the process itself is sanctified? Not necessarily, not any more than rape or incest are sanctified processes simply because human life is created in the act. In fact it can be argued that, like rape and incest, cloning reflects an ultimate disregard for human life on the part of one or more of the chief parties involved. While it is the woman victim whose dignity is irrelevant to the rapist, it appears that it is the embryonic offspring which are irrelevant in cloning science.
Cloning in the way that it occurs through in vitro fertilization routinely involves the production of embryos which, in the final analysis, are irrelevant to the scientist's ultimate aim in manipulating cell division or obtaining a sustained pregnancy. Through in vitro fertilization techniques, it is common for technicians to initiate twinning with the woman's egg. In this way it is possible to implant some eggs and freeze others for use later, in the event that the first attempt at sustained pregnancy is unsuccessful. There are, at present, estimated to be many thousands of fertilized eggs (read: human beings) which are frozen in anticipation of some future use or disposal.10
The type of cloning research which went into producing Dolly the sheep was built upon approximately 300 attempts to "grow" cells in the same fashion. That Dolly was the first real success by the research team involved in her production only goes to show what we might anticipate happening in efforts to clone people: many disposable people before even one person survives to birth.
While science naturally seems to dispatch unwanted life with great detachment, such life is not viewed with the same dispassion from the moral and theological perspective. Life which springs from the genetic contribution of man and woman by God's determination is precious. Scripture is clear that even in our nascent form we are valuable to Him (Ps. 139:13-16; Jer. 1:5); and that God's moral Law extends to those who are not yet born (Ex. 21:22-25).
The idea that we are valuable and worthy of equal consideration prior to birth is almost, of course, a foreign concept in today's world. But Church history has consistently, until the 20th century, upheld the view that human offspring, prior to birth, are to be desired and protected. Note what Martin Luther had to say concerning procreation:
The rest of the populace is more wicked than even the heathen themselves. For most married people do not desire offspring. Indeed, they turn away from it and consider it better to live without children, because they are poor and do not have the means with which to support a household. . . . But the purpose of marriage is not to have pleasure and to be idle but to procreate and bring up children, to support a household. . . . Those who have no love for children are swine, stocks, and logs unworthy of being called men and women; for they despise the blessing of God, the Creator and Author of marriage.11
In fact, many theologians in history have argued, based upon Genesis 38:8-10, that this life is deserving of preservation even before the physical joining of ovum and sperm.12 Such arguments merit more depth than we can offer here.
We have not looked at many of the ethical issues which arise in the cloning debate. However, based upon this short survey it is easy to conclude that cloning as it is practiced today and likely to be developed in the future offers no consistent respect for those who are incubated in a lab. And so, human cloning, even with the best of intentions, becomes an act of grave immorality as some human embryos are determined to be defective; some are selected for continued life; some are held in suspended animation through freezing, while others are destroyed. For these reasons cloning ought to be adamantly and unapologetically rejected by the Church community.
Further, in an age of "compassion," where we have difficulty demanding contentment in all of the circumstances that God brings into our lives, particularly barrenness, we ought to be bold and reject reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization, realizing that ultimately God will reckon justice on behalf of all of those denied our compassion in an effort to supply their parents with a child.
And while it may be argued that given enough time such techniques can be refined and managed apart from destroying human life, the reality remains that many lives have already been disposed of. We have no right to kill with the promise of one day "doing it right."
1 Ian Wilmut, et. al., "Viable offspring derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells," Nature, vol. 385, 810-813, February 27, 1997
2 "Americans Oppose Human Cloning," Reuter News Service, February 25, 1997
3 See "Clone," Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Books, 1996 for a basic definition. Also, "Manipulation," New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology, Pg. 565, InterVarsity Press, 1995
4 John B. Shea, M.D., "New Reproductive and Genetic Technologies: Canadian Government's Position Paper, A Response," Social Justice Review, vol. 88, Pg. 50-55, March-April, 1997, St. Louis, MO
5 Gregg Allison, Ph.D., Lecture in Systematic Theology, April 16, 1997, Western Seminary, Portland, OR
6 E. Charles Heinze, Trinity & Triunity: Salvation and the Nature of the Godhead, Pg. 6, Epaphras Press, 1995
7 A good resource for investigating God's continual involvement is a book entitled, A Full Quiver: Family Planning & the Lordship of Jesus Christ by Rick and Jan Hess. It was published by Wolgamuth & Hyatt in 1989 and is now being distributed directly from the authors. Please see the ad, or contact me if you are interested, and I will assist you with ordering information.
8 Luther's Works, vol. 2, Pg. 132
9 It is conceivable that science may attempt to "create" from the chemical building blocks that are identified by the Human Genome Project. This project is government funded by the US with the goal of mapping all of the genetic code in man, identifying the basic chemical substances and sequences. It is anticipated that the project will arrive at completion around the year 2000.
10 "Medicine's troubling bonus: surplus of human embryos," New York Times, March 16, 1997. Also, "Fertilization: Embryos Accumulating Across the Country," Abortion Report, March 7, 1997
11 See Luther's Works, vol. 5, Pg. 325-328, vol. 28, Pg. 279
12 Martin Luther, Luther's Commentary on Genesis, Pg. 250-251; Martin Luther, Luther's Works, vol. 7, Pg. 20-21; John Calvin, Calvin's Commentary on Genesis, 38:10 (translated from the Latin)
Cloning around - John F. Kilner, M.Div., Ph.D.