First human embryo clone?
What really happened, and what are the ethics involved?
29 November 2001
Several scientists from the research company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA have just announced to the media that they have produced the first human embryo clone. As explained in our preliminary report on this ACT work and the articles on our Q&A page on Cloning, a clone is an identical genetic copy of another individual, which does not mean that they are identical in personality. These articles also explain the moral difference between human and animal cloning. So this article will concentrate on this specific experiment in some detail and the reactions to it.
This experiment has been given headlines in the world’s popular media. The authors published ‘properly’ in an obscure journal, E-biomed: The Journal of Regenerative Medicine and explained their procedure lucidly in the Scientific American online report, ‘The first human cloned embryo’ [with a now defunct URL; it was subsequently published in Scientific American 286(1):42–49, January 2002]. This report also attempted to justify this procedure on moral and ethical grounds.
What was the stated purpose?
Their aim was to produce embryonic stem cells, which supposedly show much promise for treating many diseases. These would have the added bonus of having identical genetic makeup to the donors, removing the danger of tissue rejection.
The scientific, Biblical and ethical issues of stem cell research (which is intimately linked to cloning) are covered in detail in Stem cells and Genesis. One important point, virtually ignored by the secular media, is that non-embryonic stem cells have had proven laboratory and clinical successes and don’t require any loss of human life. For example, stem cells have been extracted from hippocampal and periventricular regions of the brain, umbilical cord blood, pancreatic ducts, hair follicles, skin biopsies and liposuctioned fat.
How did they make the clone?
The researchers matured some women’s eggs in a culture dish. Each egg contains DNA, the information storage molecule for the genetic instructions of the organism, as well as the polar body, a remnant egg cell, and has cumulus cells from the ovary clinging to the its surface that help nurture its development. The scientists drilled through the egg’s protective layer, the zona pellucida, removed a plug, and then extracted the DNA and polar body through the hole. Then they injected either a cumulus cell or a fibroblast (a cell that gives rise to connective tissue) obtained from skin biopsies of donors. This injected egg is activated with chemicals and growth factors, and divides within 24 hours. The resulting daughter cells contain the genetic material only from the donor, so are clones.
These researchers also induced parthenogenesis on human eggs. This word comes from Greek words for virgin birth, but is not referring to Christ’s virginal conception but to a natural process known in animals where females produce offspring without a male to fertilize them. This has never naturally occurred in humans, because mature eggs have only half the number of chromosomes (haploid) of an embryo. But the eggs don’t become haploid until close to full maturity, so these researchers induced parthenogenesis by activating them while they still had paired chromosomes (diploid). The resulting embryo would then be a clone of the woman whose egg it was.
The aim of both techniques was to produce at least the blastocyst stage, a hollow ball with at least 64 cells. From the inner cell mass of the blastocyst, they hoped to extract stem cells which would be pluripotent, i.e. have the potential to develop into any tissue but not a whole organism, and be clones of the donor, i.e. have identical genes.
What was produced?
Embryos developed from only three out of eight of the injected eggs. But the largest stopped growing after only three days, containing six cells, while the other two reached only four cells. Of the 22 eggs in the parthenogenesis experiment, only six developed into blastocysts, none of which contained the inner cell mass.
The researchers claimed that the first cell was an ‘activated egg’, not a single-celled embryo. However, a human individual’s life begins at fertilization (see Q&A: Human Life), and both these procedures produce the same effect as fertilization, thus all these embryos were miniature human beings. The researchers also claimed that they produced ‘cellular life’ not human life, supposedly ‘a fundamental distinction’. But this is just word games—all life is cellular, including all human life!
Their work has been criticised on scientific grounds alone, including by Glenn McGee, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist who resigned from ACT’s ethics advisory board. He called the announcement ‘nothing but hype’ and accused them of ‘doing science by press release’ as opposed to publishing in a peer-reviewed science journal first.
Eggs don’t always need their genes to divide, so what was produced may not have even been a clone. Conversely, genes alone are not enough without the machinery of an egg. Thus, cloning a dinosaur from DNA in amber, Jurassic Park style, for example, would be impossible without an intact dinosaur egg (this is aside from the impossibility of DNA surviving for more than a few tens of thousands of years, let alone the alleged 65 million years).
Is human cloning morally right or wrong?
To answer the question of whether it is right to destroy X, it’s first important to ask, ‘What is X?’ This is answered above—these clones are human beings. Since the Bible condemns intentional taking of human life (Exodus 20:13, Matthew 19:18, Romans 13:9), showing that human clones are indeed human lives means these procedures are clearly wrong. However, these researchers ignore the Creator’s guidelines, so their ideas of ethics become muddled (cf. Romans 1:18–23). If, as they almost certainly believe, we’re all just rearranged pond scum, the products of survival of the fittest, then they would have no basis for a consistent moral code.
Sometimes ‘reproductive’ and ‘therapeutic’ cloning are distinguished. The former aims to produce an individual who will grow into an adult, while ‘therapeutic’ means used for healing/curing diseases. However, ‘therapeutic’ cloning is hardly therapeutic for the clone! Rather, the clone is intended to be harvested for stem cells or perhaps body parts, for healing the donor.
Strangely, these researchers oppose reproductive cloning, which at least avoids killing the clone in question. CMI, too, opposes reproductive cloning, mainly because many human embryos would have to be experimented on to develop the technique properly. For comparison, it took 277 tries to clone Dolly the sheep, so her ‘maker’, Dr Wilmut, also does not support human cloning [at time of writing; he has now changed his mind without bothering to address his previous objections]. Reproductive cloning also undermines the God-given ideal for a family, where children come from a father and mother married exclusively to each other for life (Genesis 1:27–28, 2:24, Malachi 2:14–15, Matthew 19:3–6).
Note that we do not oppose cloning for the reason many people do, i.e. the fear that we might clone, say, an army of Adolf Hitlers. This reason is fallacious, as pointed out on Q&A: Cloning, because an individual is more than just genes—personality is also influenced by environment, and humans have a non-material aspect, i.e. a human spirit, that survives physical death. Even identical twins, who come from what is essentially a natural cloning process, have different (though often similar) personalities.
US President George W. Bush summed up the issue as succinctly as anyone: ‘We should not, as a society, grow life to destroy it, and that’s exactly what’s taking place’ (see Bush says human cloners ‘morally wrong’). Previously he has affirmed that ‘human life is a sacred gift from our Creator’ and that ‘we recoil at the idea of growing human beings for spare body parts or creating life for our convenience.’ The President has also affirmed the important Biblical principle (cf. Romans 3:8) that ‘even the most noble ends do not justify any means.’
Unfortunately, any country that allows abortion on demand, which means most Western ‘Christian’ ones, have already declared that it is acceptable to destroy one class of human beings for the convenience of others. Nazi Germany did this with the Jews, and now we’re seeing exactly the same attitude pushed with human cloning. And once this is allowed, where will it end? Harvesting organs from terminally ill patients who will die soon? Or prisoners on death row, as evolutionary-communist–dominated China does?
Some US states, e.g. California, have banned all human cloning, and the House of Representatives has also passed anti-cloning legislation by a vote of 265–162. President Bush has urged the Senate to ratify this ban, and CMI supports his urging. Democrat senators Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont are among the opponents of cloning from the opposing party. But their own opposition seems to lack credibility, because they have supported abortion on demand without restrictions, i.e., argued that the unborn have no rights to protection at any time in the womb. Note that the radical pro-abortion position, also endorsed by Bill Clinton, says it’s OK to pull an 8-month-gestation baby partially out of the womb, then suck his/her brains out, so the baby can be removed completely. This makes it inconsistent, from their perspective, to support a legislation to prevent cloned blastocysts a few days old from being harvested for their stem cells. Of course, from the correct perspective, that life begins at conception, it is perfectly consistent.
The British Labour government, with support of the Opposition parties, is pushing emergency legislation through Parliament banning reproductive cloning, with penalties of up to 10 years jail (see UK rushes through anti-cloning laws). However, the Government supports therapeutic cloning, like the ACT researchers. It’s sadly not surprising, since this government is led by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who like his good friend, former US President Bill Clinton, is a professing Christian who rarely lets the teachings of Christ (i.e. the Bible) get in the way of his policy decisions. Unfortunately, this is typical of many politicians who, having been trained in evolution-dominated academia, have relegated the Bible, in their thinking, to being just a ‘book of stories’ about abstract ‘feel-good’ issues.
The Legislative Assembly of the Australian State of Queensland has also drawn up new laws banning human cloning, with heavy fines and up to 10 years jail. Premier Peter Beattie commendably said that his Labor government would never support cloning for medical research. Showing a commendable awareness, he supported investing in adult stem cell research, particularly into cells derived from bone marrow. He mentioned University of Queensland scientists researching how to reprogram these cells to develop into other types of tissue, e.g. muscle, including heart tissue; bone; and ligaments. Unfortunately Beattie also advocates using stem cells from embryos up to 14 days old. See State plan for fines up to $1.5m.
However, since that report of 27 November 2001, details have emerged that show that the proposed legislation is as morally bankrupt as those researchers, in regarding ‘therapeutic’ cloning as a lesser evil than reproductive cloning. I.e. if a clone is formed, it’s verboten, on pain of 10 years imprisonment, to allow him or her to actually live in a mother’s womb; instead, the new individual human must be destroyed. The Bill tries to avoid the implication that it’s murder by ‘defining’ that ‘human’ does not include a human embryo, despite all the scientific and theological evidence to the contrary [Dr David van Gend, ‘The Human Embryo is nobody’s child’, The Courier Mail [Brisbane], 8 December 2001].
The ACT experiments may have produced a human cloned embryo. This is a horrifying next stage in a culture that has rejected God’s moral absolutes so far that millions of unborn babies are butchered for convenience. The aim of so-called therapeutic cloning is to generate new human beings that are much younger ‘identical twins’ of the donor, and use them solely for body parts for this donor. There is no consistent moral reason why this could not progress to killing still another class of human beings because it might benefit others.
For the moment, some politicians are principled enough to ban at least some types of cloning, while others are simply frightened (i.e., fear of either what cloning could lead to, or just voter backlash). But because of the widespread substitution of the consistent moral framework of the Bible with evolutionary indoctrination, we must wonder how long the opposition of the frightened, but unprincipled, politicians will last.