Rights & Protections of Coming Human Clones: A Remarkable Lutheran View
Written by Lewis D. Eigen
What would happen if it were discovered that a person—child or adult—were a human clone? All religions appear opposed to human reproductive cloning. So are most people. How will the clone fare in American society. Would she/he be treated just like any other person? Or would there be prejudice against the clone and perhaps danger? Would some religious fundamentalists see the clone as the “spawn of the Devil” or the “Anti-Christ” and physically try to harm or even kill the clone?
In one previous article in Scriptamus, I suggested that it was possible that there were human clones already living among us or could be very shortly. In a second article I predicted that if a clone were among us, certain religious groups that might be very much opposed to human cloning would actually act to protect the life of the clone. This, however, was based on my personal perception and understanding of Roman Catholic theology and sociology in America.
However, for the first time, a religious body may have spoken out on the very important moral and ethical issue. And they have vindicated my view about the protection that some, if not many, religions would offer to clones. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has had a task force studying the theological and ethical positions that Lutherans (and others) are likely to face in coming years as a result of Genetic Science. The ECLA Task Force on Genetics of the church’s “Church in Society” initiative has issued a draft report for comment and discussion. The statement on reproductive cloning reads:
“… the reproductive cloning of human individuals is rejected. Currently, attempts to clone a human being represent unacceptable experimentation. Even if that obstacle were overcome, however, the decision to clone a complete genetic replica of a human being violates the principle of respect for the individual who is brought into existence. No individual should be brought into life for the sake of repeating another individual’s genotype. This church acknowledges some tragic circumstances where reproductive cloning, if it were safe, may not be motivated by a selﬁsh or narcissistic end. However, we stand with the faith claim that to be human is to be mortal and believe we should not seek to circumvent mortality through reproductive cloning. Should reproductive cloning progress, this church would honor the God-given dignity of cloned individuals and would welcome each to the baptismal font like any other child of God.”
This statement is a remarkably nuanced analysis and statement regarding a very complex scientific, social, and religious issue. It deserves serious consideration by all, independent of religious persuasion or level of scientific comprehension. This task force has framed the issues so clearly and even those who will disagree with their positions could learn much from reading and considering them.
First, it opposes human reproductive cloning. It observes that the current state of the art and technology represents too much of a risk for ethical experimentation. In this sense it is very similar to many other statements of many other groups. However, it next argues that even if the technology were improved and eliminated much esiting risk—an inevitable occurrence—there is still sufficient ethical reasons to oppose it. The argument they articulate is not the common but weak argument that it would be “offensive to God,” “against the will of God” or “man encroaching into God’s domain”, but they observe that the clone would be denied the dignity of possessing a unique human genotype. This is an extremely interesting argument—that each and every human being has the right to his or her own uniqueness—particularly a unique genotype.
I would personally like to see much more discussion of this point. From where does such a human right emanate? It is implicit for some who believe that we are all entitled to our own individuality and to our own soul. But a clone may well have a unique soul—share a genome but have its own soul. The Lutheran task force does not raise the issue of the unique soul explicitly, nor does it depend on other typical theological concepts. It directly confronts and asserts the right to a unique genotype. Further, and incredibly insightful, they do not argue anything about the clone donor. If we all own our own genotype (a concept very much in doubt according to present American law) and the issue is considered from a property right point of view, then I can choose to give away my uniqueness and contribute my cells for a clone. The Lutheran task force joins the issue directly and clearly by affirming the right of the clone—“the individual who is brought into existence”—to a unique genotype. The Lutherans may well have defined the key ethical variable about human cloning that is conceptually “catholic” in the original meaning of the word—universal. The Lutheran articulation of the uniqueness ethic does not depend alone on their church’s theology or even that of Christianity. It can resonate with Moslems, Buddhists, Jews or believers in almost any religion. It can even resonate with secular humanists and atheists. It is the only argument against human reproductive cloning I have yet come across that can be used without imposing an existing religious view as the basis for the argument. As such, it may be the only reason a legal ban on human cloning would stand up to American Constitutional scrutiny. All the others so far, represent the imposition of a religious world viewpoint and doctrine on all citizens, contrary to the separation of church and state guaranteed by our First Amendment. The Lutherans would ban human reproductive cloning, not to protect us or society from the clones, not to prevent existing humans from contravening God’s word, not to protect religious people from blatant sin thrown in their faces. They would ban reproductive human cloning for the sake of and to protect the rights of the clones!!!
This alone would have been a major contribution that the Lutheran task force has made to the ethical, moral and scientific inquiry into human reproductive cloning. However, there is another first. The Lutheran task force, unlike almost all other religiously-based views of human reproductive human cloning, does not make the naïve assumption that the legal and cultural banning of human reproductive cloning will be successful and there will be no clones among us. This is the first religious pronouncement on “What to do about the clones themselves?” In what is, in my opinion, a great moral example to the world, the Lutherans state unequivocally that human clones would be children of God. We are obligated to protect them and treat them equally with all of “God’s children.” And they go much further; they unequivocally welcome clones to their fellowship in Christ in some truly eloquent language:
“… this church would honor the God-given dignity of cloned individuals and would welcome each to the baptismal font like any other child of God.”
There is one potential fly in the ointment. This is a DRAFT statement to be discussed and amended throughout the Lutheran Synods, to be revised and amended, and then to be considered by the 2011 Churchwide Assembly. So there is no certainty that this remarkable religious, philosophical, ethical, and scientific statement will prevail. Also, the statement on Human Reproductive Cloning is a small part of the much larger statement dealing with almost all of Genetics. All Lutherans are asked to partake in discussions and hearings on the draft, and I would urge all Lutherans and even non-Lutherans to participate. Click here for details of participation and copies of the full draft statement.
If the existing language survives, of which there is a very good chance, I believe it will go down in theological, philosophical, ethical and scientific history. I would summarize the view of the Lutheran task force in a religious paraphrase:
Do not vest the sins of the cloners upon the clones!!!
For the record the author is neither Lutheran nor Christian.
Entry filed under: Health & Medicine, Politics, Science. Tags: Christianity, cloning, constitutionality, dignity, ethics, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, genetics, genotypes, human cloning, individuality, Lutherans, religion, reproductive cloning, rights, Science, separation of church and state, soul, technology, uniqueness.