Difficulties with primate cloning: A religious comment

April 10, 2003

Comment by Ronald Cole-Turner:

"The article by Gerald Schatten et al. in the 11 April 2003 issue of Science suggests that primate cloning may be difficult to achieve even at a level sufficient to derive embryonic stem cells, and much more if the goal is reproductive cloning.

"What are the implications of this work for ethics and public policy? By showing us why primate cloning is so difficult, researchers provide the clearest reason yet why cloning must not dominate the public debate over medical research. Reproductive cloning just isn't very likely, and anyone who exploits public fears of cloning to stop medical research is not treating the public with honesty and respect.

"In my view, this work provides the strongest support yet for banning reproductive cloning as fundamentally unsafe while leaving open the right of scientists to engage in research in fields such as embryonic stem cells. This work suggests that the future medical use of embryonic stem cells will not in fact lie along the lines of cloning or nuclear transfer but through other approaches that may be technically challenging but less problematic morally. It's time to remove the cloning monster from the debate so that medical research using embryonic stem cells can move forward with strong support.

"What are the implications at the level of religious and cultural concerns? It is almost as if nature does not want us to clone ourselves. Nature seems to want cloning to be difficult, as if to suggest to us that sexual reproduction is intrinsically the better path.

"Through the novel combination of genetic material, genes and their molecular support structures are re-programmed to promote the healthy development of new life. The molecular problems of cloning might serve as a metaphor, pointing to the social and relational problems of cloning. It's not enough to ask, how do molecules get switched back to the normal starting point for new life? We also need to ask, how do our intergenerational relationships get reset to welcome new life on its own new and inevitably surprising terms? Perhaps we have just found an unexpected agreement, spanning our molecules and our human relationships, that human reproductive cloning isn't a very good idea."
Comment by the Rev. Dr. Ronald Cole-Turner, the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the editor of Human Cloning: Religious Responses (1997) and of Beyond Cloning: Religion and the Remaking of Humanity (2001). Contact at 412 441 3304 x2170.

Science and Religion Information Service

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