Theologians oppose human cloning but warn of dangers of a ban

April 30, 2001

Recent claims that reproductive human cloning is about to begin have raised questions about public policy in this area, including the prospect of legislation to ban cloning. In response, theologians express their vigorous opposition to any immediate attempts at human cloning for reproductive purposes, but warn of the dangers of excessively restrictive public policy that might prohibit appropriate research.

This release contains quotes from carefully selected, well-informed theologians. All quotes are free to use by journalists in any news medium. Contact information is provided, follow-up interviews are encouraged.

Prof. Karen Lebacqz holds the Robert Gordon Sproul Chair in Theological Ethics at Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA; 510-849-8250; email: or klebacqz@mcn.org

"Any bill on cloning must make careful distinctions between "human reproductive cloning"--the effort to produce a living child whose genome is the same as another human being--and somatic cell nuclear transfer in early embryos for research purposes. I support somatic cell nuclear transfer for research purposes. But at present, I join those who oppose reproductive cloning. The risks are too high. The unknowns are too great. We know scientifically that species differ remarkably from each other, in spite of our shared genetic material. What we have learned in animal cloning will not necessarily transfer to human experience. It is women's bodies that bear the brunt of failed experiments. As a Christian feminist, I oppose the neglect and abuse of women's bodies.

"However, it is crucial to keep open the avenues of research on somatic cell nuclear transfer for non-reproductive purposes. The ultimate goal of such research is to learn how to reprogram human tissue so that human bodies can repair disease and regenerate tissue needed for health. Ultimately, no 'cloning' of any kind will be necessary if this research proves fruitful. As a former member of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects, I support careful rules and regulations to ensure that there is public oversight over all such research. Nonetheless, I hope that this important research can go forward." ---Karen Lebacqz, Pacific School of Religion


Eric Beresford is Consultant for Ethics and Interfaith Relations for the Anglican Church of Canada and Consultant for Ethics for the Anglican Communion Office; 416-924 9199 x209. eberesford@national.anglican.ca

"A number of groups have recently made claims about the imminent viability of human cloning. There are reasons to be skeptical since such claims appear to be motivated, at least in part, by the enormous potential for profit in this area. In addition, there are significant moral questions around the notion of viability. Dolly showed that cloning of an adult mammal was possible, however it took 277 attempts to achieve one live birth. Applied to human cloning this success rate, although it could claim to demonstrate technical viability, is not morally supportable. Indeed it would suggest a disregard for human fetal life that goes significantly beyond what is legitimized by current public attitudes and policy.

"Science is a cultural practice which receives public support and funding (whether through governments or corporate sponsors) insofar as it reflects cultural values, and offers the promise of achieving cultural goals and aspirations. It is not enough to ask why we should not do something. We also need to ask why we should. What legitimate goals will be met by cloning? And what is their cost to society, or to groups within society? The answers to these questions must be sought in the public debates by which our vision of the common good is shaped. Public policy needs at this time to create the space for these debates by preventing precipitate action." ---Eric Beresford


Brent Waters is Director of the Center for Ethics and Values and Assistant Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL. Telephone: 412-585-0842. Email: brent.waters@worldnet.att.net.

"There are currently some presumably serious attempts to use nuclear transfer technology to produce a human being. If a race to create Dolly's human counterpart is in fact underway, it is both irresponsible and morally reprehensible. The technology in question is far from safe. In attempting to clone animals, failure has been the rule rather than the exception. Moreover, using cloning as a reproductive technique raises ethical issues that have not been adequately addressed, much less resolved.

"Congress should ban reproductive cloning. This does not imply, however, that all research using somatic cell nuclear transfer should also be prohibited. The technology that produced Dolly has the potential to spur highly beneficial medical advances. Yet if this research is to promote the public interest it should be pursued in a deliberate and responsible manner, subjected to rigorous review. Now is the time for Congress to set a tone of prudence rather than recklessness." -- Brent Waters


Rev. Demetrios Demopulos (Ph.D. in genetics) is the parish priest of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and teaches at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA. 978-342-216 or 978-342-9015; frdemopulos@omaccess.com

"The prospect of human-reproductive cloning being attempted within the year and the real possibility of human Dollys being created in the laboratory require action by the religious communities and by Congress. As an Orthodox Christian, I speak out in opposition to any attempt to clone a human being because humans are supposed to be created by acts of love between two people, not through the manipulation of cells in acts that are ultimately about self-love. Our actions should bring us together in Christ, not separate us into new and different classifications. As a concerned citizen, I ask Congress to regulate reproductive technology, both in the private as well as in the public sector. I am not asking Congress to legislate morality, but to protect the commonwealth from the excesses of unregulated reproductive techniques that denigrate and exploit innocent human beings." ---Rev. Demetrios Demopulos


Ronald Cole-Turner holds the H. Parker Sharp Chair in Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He is the editor of Human Cloning: Religious Responses (1997) and Beyond Cloning: Religion and the Remaking of Humanity (2001). 412-441-3304 x2170; 724-612-0187 (mobile); coleturn@pts.edu

The prospect of imminent human cloning is frightening. It is the clear judgment of the scientific community that human cloning is not yet safe. The race to be first or to engage in reckless experimentation has no place when innocent human lives are at stake. Those who defy concerns about safety by rushing into human cloning now are not scientists but the enemies of science. Their irresponsibility could set legitimate research back by years. What a tragedy if progress toward new therapies is sacrificed by egotism and greed!

Legislation won't stop cloning, because those who want to clone can simply cross national borders. Legislation, if carefully limited, could make it clear that as a society, we are opposed to human reproductive cloning, at the very least until it is clearly safe. But great care is needed to assure that others lines of research, such as work in stem cells, is not undermined. ---Ronald Cole-Turner
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Provided by Science and Religion News Service, which is committed to providing highly informed, interfaith religious perspectives on breaking news in science. For more information contact srns@science-spirit.org.

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