BRING IN THE CLONES

OCTOBER 12, 1997
R.M. FEWKES

"Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!" (Matt. 12:12)

When Jesus uttered these words to those who were questioning if it was lawful for him to perform healings on the Sabbath he never dreamed that one day we would be talking about whether it is right not only to clone a sheep, but a human being. Last March, Dr. Ian Wilmut, a Scottish embryologist, did what no scientist has done since God took one of Adam's ribs and made a helpmate for him in the Garden of Eden. He helped create "a fully formed healthy mammal born from a single adult cell."(TIME) He christened his new creation, "Dolly", and then his two ewes (or a facsimile thereof) made the cover of TIME with the caption, "Will There Ever Be Another You?"

What Dr. Wilmut has done is to discover a new law of nature: a single adult mammalian cell has all the dormant genetic instructions contained in the original fertilized egg which can be fired-up to become the source of new life, which is another way of saying that the whole of life is contained in the smallest fragment of life. Just as the whole 3-D image of a hologram is contained in but a small segment of the holographic film. Perhaps physicists will someday discover that the tiniest fragment of matter contains all the information about the entire universe from the big bang to the end of time. TIME magazine says of Dr. Wilmut's discovery that it is "the most portentous scientific achievement since Alamogordo" (marking the explosion of the atomic bomb) and equally fraught with potential for both good and evil.

From nuclear explosion we move to nuclear transfer--a cloning technique which involves the procurement of a quiescent donor cell, in this case, from the udder of a pregnant Finn Dorset ewe, then placing it in a culture dish next to an unfertilized egg, or oocyte, from which the nucleus had been removed, zapping them gently with pulses of electricity, thus prompting the egg to accept the new nucleus with all of its DNA intact, and with a little bit of bio-chemical action, triggering the process of cell division. That's exactly what happened in Dr. Wilmut's creation of Dolly. A week later the growing embryo was implanted in the uterus of a surrogate ewe. Months down the road Dr. Wilmut and his aides gave new meaning to the songs "Hello Dolly!" and "Bring In The Clones". The "udderly impossible" has become reality. Some have compared Dr. Wilmut to Mary Shelley's fictional character, Dr. Frankenstein, who created a fully formed human life from adult body parts, sewn together and zapped with electricity as you will remember, but Dolly is surely much less of a monster than Dr. Frankenstein's moribund creation.

Now that we have cloned a sheep people are asking, "What next?" How much longer before we clone a human being? This possibility has raised all sorts of scientific, moral and theological questions that we haven't begun to comprehend. The repercussions are staggering to consider. Some of the far out possibilities have already been anticipated in previous novels and movies, such as THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU in which human-animal hybrids are created for hellish purposes, or Aldous Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD in which "delta" and "epsilon" sub-beings were cloned to function as slaves and servants of human beings, or perhaps to make obedient and unquestioning armies of marching morons for military conquest.

Some of the possibilities of the use of cloning for human good have also been considered. Cloning could be used to help in the propagation of endangered animal species or perhaps in the creation of replacement organs for transplant patients. The study of cloning could give insight into why spinal cords, heart muscles or brain tissues won't regenerate after injury, or why cancer cells seem to revert to embryonic stages and multiply uncontrollably, or for developing a potential treatment for cystic fibrosis. Most scientists and religious leaders are in favor of cloning plants and animals to help meet human needs or to better serve or save human life. But when it comes to the question of cloning human beings then a lot of red flags of warning, protest and prohibition are raised.

The Pope has condemned human cloning as unnatural and something that should be forbidden. The Book of Genesis says that we are created in the image of God. If we can now create a person in our own image what does that say about the relation between God and humanity? Are the boundaries not blurred? Are we not over reaching ourselves? Is cloning yet another effort for human beings to play God? Is it but one more attempt to make ourselves immortal by continuing to live in replications of our physical being? Would not cloning be contradictory to the divine creation in that it would seek uniformity rather than diversity, and thus negate the concept of individuality? Are there not some things that should be left to God or the divine mystery? These are the kind of questions being asked by those who are wary of the demonic possibilities of human cloning.

A Muslim cleric, Imam Adid of Chicago says, "The question is not should we use this divinely given creativity (which cloning represents), but how? For good or for evil? While a Jewish Rabbi notes that "religious leaders have not stopped the human need to create (in the past). Neither will they stop cloning." What religious leaders should do, he suggests, is ask the important theological and moral questions that will help guide the future use and development of this new means of biological creativity.

Hollywood's latest attempt at portraying the possibilities and repercussions of human cloning was last year's comedy film, "Multiplicity", starring Michael Keaton and Andie MacDowell. The basic story line is that Michael Keaton is an overextended and overworked husband and father and construction-company manager. He's not able to keep up with the demands of the job. He can't give quality time to his wife and kids, misses their sporting events and assembly programs time and time again. His moments of intimacy with his wife are fewer and farther between. He learns about a company called "the Gemini Institute" which specializes in cloning adult copies of oneself who then can assume half the work load for us and make life a little easier. Keaton is tempted and tries it, not once, not twice, but thrice. The problem is that each succeeding clone of himself wants his own clone to take care of the day-to-day stuff. The three clones are all crowded together into a small apartment above the garage where they live concealed from his unsuspecting wife. She never sees but one of them at a time and thinks they are all him. There are a number of near multiple encounters which keep the action and laughs coming fast and furious.

What complicates the story even more is that each clone of himself is a manifestation of only a part of his personality--the first clone is a hard working skirt-chasing macho jock. The second clone is a sensitive New Age Man, who cries and bakes bread. The 3rd clone, who was copied not from the original, but from a copy, is a bit blurry in the areas of intelligence and motor skills. Keaton has ordered all his clones to stay away from his wife, but a series of happenstance sexual encounters nonetheless occur. Only the last clone, the one blurry around the edges, actually listens to his wife and shows him how to save his marriage. In the end he has to send his clones off to Florida to make a life for themselves without him, while he learns to make a life for himself with his wife and kids. It's a lot of fun and shows us what can happen with too much cloning around.

The possibilities of human cloning are interesting to contemplate. What if we could clone Jesus of Nazareth--assuming we found his bones with a DNA cell intact--what would be the results? A Second Coming like no theologian ever imagined. Theodore Parker once said, "Let there be a thousand thousand Christs", meaning that the potential for divine goodness in the the human race was abundant, but he never dreamed it might be a thousand copies of the original. Or what if we could clone Albert Einstein, or Mother Teresa, or Martin Luther King, Jr.? Wouldn't that be a boon to future generations of the human race who would have a chance to be blessed by their scientific or religious genius yet again?

The problem with such notions is that it assumes that souls can also be Xeroxed, forgetting that the genetics of genius is no guarantee that it will unfold in a prescribed manner. Nature needs nurture to complete itself. Without the right environment--parental, cultural, educational--genius can come to naught. The twists of fate and fortune, and sheer luck and happenstance, can often make or break the possibilities of personal growth and achievement. Who could predict what such moral exemplars might become in a different time and circumstance? What if the soul or psyche is not something we are born with, so much as it is something we help create and become? Soul, we might say, is a potentiality of spirit inherent in living matter. How that spirit will manifest itself in time and space no one can tell. There is no guarantee that a clone of Albert Einstein would become what he was in a former life.

Bruce Handy did a cartoon essay in which Abraham Lincoln was cloned from a lock of his hair. Thanks to modern nutrition he grows to 7ft. 6in. and takes up basketball in college. He makes a run in the Presidential primary in N.H. with a speech that begins, "Two score and six chromosomes ago", and then is confronted with the possibility that he may be denied the nomination if the Supreme Court rules that electing his clone would violate the prohibition against serving a third term. In the end he loses the nomination to Fred Thompson because of a poor showing in the south on Super Tuesday. He ends up as an advertising figure promoting President's Day sales. So much for the twists of fate and fortune.

What if cloning were used to replicate not another Jesus or Einstein, but another Hitler, as the film "The Boys From Brazil" hypothesized? Former Nazis hiding in Brazil want their leader back and so they attempt to have him cloned and born again. But again we assume that Hitler's demonic soul would be reincarnated in his cloned physical form. Who knows but that in another life he might become a second rate artist, or a police sergeant, or the manager of a vegetarian food co-op? Just another unknown and forgotten human soul. Woody Allen's old movie "Sleeper" presents a humorous scenario in which a future despot is assassinated and then his followers attempt to clone him back to life from the only part of his body that survived, his nose. Woody Allen tries to steal his nose and thereby prevent his future resurrection.

This is not the first time issues of genetic engineering have been raised. It was not that long ago that Scottish scientists yet again opened the doors of biological creativity with the advent of in vitro fertilization. Louise Brown in 1978 was the first in vitro baby to be born. Here we had the possibility of human beings being able to reproduce with the pleasure or necessity of sexual intercourse. It also made it possible for a woman to gestate and give birth to a child to whom she had no genetic relation--the egg from one woman is fertilized by the sperm of a man outside the womb and then implanted in the uterus of another woman who brings the developing embryo to full term. With in vitro fertilization a child can have as many as five parents: two fathers--the genetic father and the rearing father, and three mothers-- the genetic mother, the gestational mother, and the rearing mother. This has created a legal nightmare when one parent or another wants to contest the legal parenthood of one or two of the others.

Cloning at least simplifies the legal nightmare noted above. To begin with it eliminates the need for a biological father. Sorry guys, you're not needed. No men need apply. Secondly, cloning makes possible a true Virgin Birth. A woman could literally become mother to her own self by carrying a nuclear transferred cloned ovum taken from a cell of her own body and fused with her own egg. Udderly impossible, you say. Five to one odds it will happen within a generation. British science fiction writer, John Wyndam, once wrote a story, "Consider Her Ways", about a future society in which men no longer exist, and women only give birth to themselves. No more viva la difference. That would surely be a sad ending to this cloney tale.

Jesus tells us that we are of much more value than mere sheep. As human beings we have the powers and gifts of self-reflection, creativity, moral and ethical choice, and the task of making and growing our own souls. It is never wrong to use our powers of being for helping and healing purposes, for animals or humans. If the blessed and demonic possibilities of cloning can help us consider and realize our human worth and potential then perhaps it can be for us and our future descendents much more of a blessing than a curse. As that wise Muslim cleric from Chicago noted, the question is not whether we should use these divinely given gifts of creativity, but how, and for what purpose? That is the question we must answer in all of our life choices.

Bless us, O God, in all our endeavors, that we might yet make of ourselves a gift to thee: a soul beautiful to behold, full of grace and truth, righteousness and peace, worthy of the best that is in us, something worth repeating and sharing with our brothers and sisters of the journey. Amen.