The technological developments of the last few decades have been remarkable. Indeed, this entire century has seen so many marvelous, wonderful, scientific advances that most of us alive today simply cannot conceive of how radically different things are today over how things were 60, 70, 80 years ago. Among us there are only a few members who have any kind of living memory of how things were back before the invention and proliferation of electricity, telephones, radios, televisions. I can remember when computers were rare and, just 10 years ago, I can remember that there was NO World Wide Web that I could access; and, somehow, I got along quite well without email, without websites, without immediate access to the information resources of the entire planet. Times have, indeed, changed.
This is no more true than in the area of medical science ... and especially in the field of genetic science, genetic therapy, and cloning. We've all heard about the cloning of Dolly, a sheep, this past year. Since Dolly's cloning there have been at least a dozen more cloning of various kinds ... various animals have been cloned, and currently a collie dog is in the process of being cloned by a research team here in Texas. And, it is simply a matter of time before human beings are cloned. And the cloning of human beings brings up a serious set of ethical questions, and no one seems to have good answers for these questions. Even the Church has only just barely touched on the subject.
The United Methodist Church's positions on many social issues can be found in the part of the Discipline called the "Social Principles." In the Social Principles the opinion of the General Conference is articulated on many various issues, including the medical science field. Here is what our Church says about genetic technology:
The responsibility of humankind to God's creation challenges us to deal carefully with the possibilities of genetic research and technology. We welcome the use of genetic technology for meeting fundamental human needs for health, a safe environment, and an adequate food supply.
Because of the effects of genetic technologies on all life, we call for effective guidelines and public accountability to safeguard against any action which might lead to abuse of these technologies, including political or military ends. We recognize that cautious, well-intended use of genetic technologies may sometimes lead to unanticipated harmful consequences.
Human gene therapies that produce changes that cannot be passed to offspring (somatic therapy) should be limited to the alleviation of suffering caused by disease. Genetic therapies for eugenic choices or that produce waste embryos are deplored... ... Because its long-term effects are uncertain, we oppose genetic therapy that results in changes that can be passed to offspring (germ-line therapy).
While none of this speaks directly to human cloning, the implications for cloning are clear. While the selective, limited cloning of general tissue or of selected organs -- like a heart or a kidney or a liver (if such ever becomes possible) might be well acceptable -- the cloning of full human bodies introduces serious questions and problems in terms human identity. I mean, if we were to clone a complete physical duplicate of me from the cells of my stomach lining (the stomach lining is among the cells best suited for cloning purposes), would the clone of me have a soul? Or, would he be my property? Could I use his organs, at my will, for my own purposes? Would such a clone have human rights?
These kinds of problems cause me moments of pause when it comes to the issue of cloning. I think the ability to clone a heart or a kidney would be great ... but cloning of full human beings seems problematic to me, in the very least.
© 2001, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
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