Cloning & Behavioural Genetics

Three areas of genetic study raise significant questions for the future.

A.  Cloning for substitute or asexual reproduction (see below).
B. Therapeutic Cloning for genetically identical body parts to used in human transplants,
and for herds of animals engineered to generate pharmaceutical compounds in natural body fluids (e.g. milk).
C. Genetic Determinism Another area is that of behavioural genetics - to what extent do our genes relate to who we are.
D. See also:
  General discussion of the rights and wrongs of cloning and IVF
  Notes on an article by Robert Wachbroit, the Ethics of Human Cloning.
  Quotations on cloning - various sources and authors.
  A summary of arguments for and against cloning
 

MAPCs (Multipotent Adult Progenitor Cells) remove need for Embryonic Stem Cells

(Minor amendments were made to this page 12th December 2002
"Cloning & Behavioural Genetics" is part of www.genefaith.org )

Cloning for Asexual Reproduction.

by Andrew Palmer -  3rd. July 2001

Contents of article

Must be treated separately from therapeutic cloning.

While the process of therapeutic cloning starts of the same as reproductive cloning the end result is the different. Apart from attitudes to the human zygote onwards, there is no intention to produce a human being only tissues which would be returned to the genetic donor. Therefore these issues must be dealt with separately, except for initial concerns about the status of the zygote and embryo.

Cloning does not mess with the embryo once it is created. Cloning affects only the treatment of eggs before they become viable embryos. Then once a viable embryo is created, and it is determined to be healthy and whole it would be implanted in a surrogate mother. The concerns here then are about the use of donated eggs (unfertilised) and the creation of an embryo  whose treatment would then be similar to those produced through IVF.

Raises strong feelings

This subject raises a lot of fears and produces very strong emotions.

There are those ardently in favour.
There are significantly more against.

Are there answers both to the emotions raised, and to the very serious questions raised by this possible course of action.

There are serious problems with the idea of reproductive cloning, not least the confusion of family relationships that will arise.There is also the current problem of wastage. The process which produces living embryos currently has a very high failure rate. Present work with animal embryos shows a very high ratio of seriously genetically damaged embryos, and this is a clear technical problem. For Christians and people of other faiths there are still issues about soul and spirit, and identity.

Fears - human beings a commodity or tool

The popular fears about armies of GM soldiers will I believe remain the fantasy of science fiction stories. Firstly because nobody will stand for the idea of people created as tools for a regime. Governments may pervert individuals as groups, but wherever this dehumanisation of e.g. ethnic groups occurs, eventually there is an incredibly strong reaction at world level. (The reaction of the United nations to Iraq, and to the Balkans shows this even though other political considerations have a part to play in those scenarios.) Secondly it will remains in the science fiction stories because genetics doesn't work that way. The recipe that is the genome for the human being, is just that. A complicated inter-reaction of proteins generated by controlled by a 30,000 strong set of genes, working in combinations and groups that defy easy description. Snipping a gene or two here and there might eventually work for some of the major genetic variations that produce clinical conditions, but even then it is going to be a long time, if ever, before such limited germline therapy will be legal in this country. (Mathias Gromeier's work on the polio virus shows the technical trend - and see also the work of Nissim Benevisty on genetically marking embryonic stem cells, which shows that once the definitions of the genome are there, change is possible.). However just the concept of producing genetically modified human beings to order using GM and cloning is both dehumanising and dangerous. It most of all speaks of human beings as a product or as a means to an end, rather than individuals existing for their own or God given purposes with integrity and deserving respect.

Christianity and other major religions,  see each human being as a unique creation of individual worth in God's sight. The message in the New Testament of the Christian bible is wholly a message that each individual human being is of incredible value to God, and has a place and a purpose in creation.  I know such meta-narrative thinking is no longer popular in society at large. However, many of those who have rejected the concept that there is somewhere a global explanation for the world still see the human being as a unique descendant of apes. They see human beings as having a mental capacity and a spirit that sets them apart from all other living creatures on earth.

The idea that a human being should be a product (like packets of soup from a factory), or a tool (produced in a workshop) seems to violate a fundamental principle of human nature at an instinctive level. There are regimes, societies and companies, where people are so treated. In those cases it raises deep emotional objections causes a cry for justice.

George Annas, debating Human Cloning in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1998, perhaps captured the essence of this concern. He said, "It would devalue children and treat them as interchangeable commodities; it would radically alter what it means to be human; and it represents the height of genetic reductionism." It in fact it begins to raise similar sorts of objection as child slavery.

Fears - lack of respect for the essentially human

Perhaps this is the level at which cloning awakens fear within us. Even though a human egg, is not a human being, its purpose is to become one. (Dr. T. Shakespeare - Address to the Royal Society on Embryonic Stem Cell research, June 2001) Somehow its end or purpose ("telos") conveys the need for respect. And Perhaps the thought that a human egg has become a tool within a grosser human intention of producing a different human being, one that would not have been the destiny of that particular egg, violates that respect.

Perhaps this idea of "telos" or end, shows us another problem. A cell taken from a human being has/had its own purpose - to be a piece of skin or bone   etc. Somehow to take that little bit of a person and grow it into a full human being also goes against the sense of purpose. However I find for myself that there is little or no emotional reaction against such a process.

The difficulty for myself and many others is the use of an embryonic stem cell or human egg as part of the cloning process.

Personally speaking I would have much less difficulty with the use of an adult stem cell for this purpose. If it could be triggered to enter a "totipotent" state which could then grow into a whole human being, then much of the emotional reaction for me disappears. The objections or problems remaining for myself would only be issues of legal status, ongoing family relationships, and purpose at the point of creation, and the specifically religious issues concerning soul and spirit.

The motivation for children and reproduction

Clearly mixed motives are seen all the time when it comes to wanting children.

We cannot control the motivations that people have for reproducing, although we may feel that some of them lead to consequences in parenting and nurture that are undesirable. Children born with a set of expectations to live up to, may have problems with a sense of their own identity. What is the future of the child born to an American couple who wanted a bone marrow match for their existing daughter (by IVF, but the problem of motivation would be the same.)  Once she was old enough and the bone marrow was taken (with or without her consent ?) what then? Could she in fact have refused or would the family pressure to conform be to great for a four year old? Did she have a reason to live on or had she fulfilled her destiny and does she find her life empty now that her parents no longer need her to give life to the other child?

These issues are real issues, but I don't think that they are reason either for or against cloning or IVF. They are issues that are sometimes raised at the point of delivery of a service, and therefore it may be proper that those issues are dealt with in counselling and ongoing support for a child. That is a different issues from purely and simply an objection to either cloning or IVF. (The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act (1990) gives clinicians a statutory obligation to consider the interests of the future of the future children they help to create using IVF techniques.)

The Influence of relationship of nominal parents

Is this relationship significant?

In France just recently brother and sister Jeanine and Robert Salomone arranged to have children, of which Robert and a donor were the genetic parents, but Jeanine was the surrogate mother of one of the babies. The couple were accused of incest in the newspapers although there was no such relationship between them. Again this was an IVF problem, but it exists as an example of the confusion of relationships that can arise through the whole process.

Brother and sister here work through IVF to produce offspring, but the same confusion could have occurred if Robert had been cloned and Jeanine was the surrogate mother to such a child.

Does it matter if the people coming for reproductive cloning are husband and wife, both female or male, brother and sister, uncle and niece? Or maybe even a single man or woman with enough wealth to ensure that they can provide the nurture support in the form of nurses and nannies. For one thing we must recognise that this is a reproductive pathway only open to those with significant wealth.

Cloning would the separation of reproduction and nurture in a special way. It needs no relationship between the parent's because one would only be a nurture parent. Even with IVF two people (at least) are genetically responsible for the child produced. Cloning offers then perhaps the most powerful form of narcissism is available.

In fact the relationship between the nurture parents is important for the developing child. It takes in early and fundamental lessons about relationships from the nurture parent's and these often become deeply buried attitudes towards adult partner in later relationships. Sometimes they only come back fully into play when people get married. Then models or husband and wife behaviour (or relevant model) come into play, often clash horribly and then cause havoc until a new relationship is built out of the two models of partner relationship.

If these are unusual relationships then this will create patterns for intimate adult relationships which lead to more difficulty in forming stable intimate relationships. Already these are seriously undermined as we see  the difficulty that many in this generation have in forming stable intimate adult relationships and marriages.

Parental relationships are important for the development of the child. The responsibility we have is to ensure that every child, has the best parenting available.

How does the practice measure up to biblical themes.

What are the major biblical ethical  themes and how do they apply here?

The themes are I see are:

  1. Responsibility to nurture, tend, and care for the world and its contents.
  2. An aversion to violence but not to conflict.
  3. A search for a dynamic peace.
  4. Anger at the exploitation of the vulnerable.
  5. A search for personal and corporate righteousness.
  6. Living for justice, respect and freedom.

Which of these would it be right to draw into an examination of this issue. First responsibility, second exploitation, third respect.

Responsibility

Responsibility is one of the key themes of the bible finding its root in the creation stories in the book of Genesis. Here is the suggestion that the world and all that is in it  is our to use, but not to abuse. Is there then a sense in which cloning is an abuse of an ovum. It certainly is against one part of its "telos". While its global purpose is to produce a human being, it is also designed to produce a human being sharing a particular set of genes. Cloning changes that part of its purpose. Overall you may feel that that level of change is not sufficient to warrant the charge of abuse. Whereas you might say that using that ovum in a transgenic way, to produce a cow, or a cow ovum to produce a human might be an abuse (Babel's Shadow, Pete Moore, pg. 121, on the work of Jose Cibelli)

Generally though, if the aim is to produce a healthy human infant, I personally do not feel that is abuse, and would therefore find cloning not ruled out on this count.

Exploitation

Exploitation as a biblical theme is applied to human beings. Divine anger is directed at those who exploit the weak and vulnerable. However this is not applied to things but to people. An egg is not a human being, we may argue separately that it has special status, but in its pre-embryonic unfertilised state it is just an egg. This biblical concept of exploitation would need stretching to apply here.

Exploitation does have something to add. There are vulnerable people as well as misguided people who would seek for cloning. Just as with IVF those who come, driven by a strong desire to have their own children are emotionally vulnerable. The free market economy does easily allow for exploitation. Hence there would always be a need, as is seen IVF in the UK, for clear guidelines and regulations. Perhaps even a way of controlling charges and costs so that such couples receive always a professional level of care and treatment that is not designed to consume their assets.

It might however be brought to bear in a different way. What is the purpose of producing a human being this way? If for example the purpose was to produce a living child that could donate tissue for a transplant - then that would certainly enter the area of exploitation of a that child and raise concerns.

From a Christian perspective then, the motive for creating a particular cloned individual would be a significant issue. If it could be construed as exploitation then there is a problem with than particular cloning event, but not with cloning in general. This concept then implies the need simply for careful checks and balances within the availability of this application.

Respect

Respect of the rights, freedoms, and status of another person or individual. Again stretching of the biblical theme is required. However If I am accepting IVF (which I do) then the argument about status applies both to the egg, and as under exploitation only to the human produced.

An egg is not a human being, under the right conditions it has the ability to become a human being but that potential is considerably less than an embryo, for it contains only half the recipe needed to create a human being. Its purpose however is to join with other genetic material and become a human being. Of the seven million (New Scientist page 38, 30 June 2001) potential eggs that form within foetal ovaries, only a handful become adult human beings. If we suppose that a few eggs from any one adult female become humans, then the purpose of her "collective of eggs" is fulfilled, are the rest spare for her do what she likes with?

Clearly there need to be controls on the acquisition, storage and use of human eggs, particularly to prevent abuse and exploitation. That said I am not convinced that there is a case for banning cloning on the basis of respect.

Conclusion

I do not find within the body of Christian values arguments that would support the banning of cloning. There are however clear arguments for

  1. adequate controls should be in place before cloning is permitted that ensure that the process is only used with the intention of producing healthy human beings.

  2. that care is used to ensure the human beings so conceived are not exploited.

  3. control similar to IVF on the acquisition, storage and disposal and use of eggs.

AJP 4th July 2001.

"Cloning & Behavioural Genetics" is part of www.genefaith.org )