Why a Religious Ethicist might disagree with human cloning

The concept of human cloning is possibly the most controversial issue in medical ethics. A clone is a precise replica of something; all genetic sequences, and thus all characteristics of an organism and its clone are identical. Clones do occur naturally (identical twins), but modern science has the technology to artificially make an exact genetic copy of any living organism (for example, Dolly the sheep), even human beings. This is achieved by removing the nucleus (which contains all of the genetic material) of a cell and inserting it into another, copying the DNA sequence, so that they become exact copies.

Religious ethicists base their morality on their individual religious beliefs, and tend to follow the principles of natural law- the idea that God created the world, establishing within it a sense of order and purpose, which reflects His will. Natural Law states that God created the world and everything in it as it is for a reason, and that to go against this creation is to thwart the will and authority of God. For this reason, religious ethicists might disagree with the idea of human cloning, as it could be seen to interfere with God’s master plan.

From most perspectives, human reproductive cloning (the complete cloning of a human in the same way Dolly the sheep was cloned) is thought to be immoral under any circumstances, and it is already banned in many countries. Christian Byk, a member of the International Association of Law, regards human cloning as ‘the end of homo sapiens and (the arrival of) a new type of man’. Christians and those whom follow Natural Law will wholeheartedly disagree with human reproductive cloning, as they will argue that God made every human being unique for a reason, and that to precisely replicate one would be going against God’s will.

One ground upon which religious ethicists (of a Christian perspective) would certainly disagree with human cloning is that it could be thought to be undermining the authority of God. Religious Ethicists strongly believe that life is sacred and only God has the authority to create it. Human cloning is, therefore a direct usurpation of God by the human race, as they are overruling the idea that life is sacred and is fashioned only by God, and taking it into their own hands to create new life. In the eyes of the religious ethicist, any action that challenges God’s supreme power is thought to be wrong.

A religious ethicist would believe that to create an exact copy of one of God’s creations would be against His will, as if he had wanted a genetic copy, that person would have been born with an identical twin. It is not yet known how a human clone would develop and age, but it is likely that the clone would suffer tremendous psychological damage, let alone any physical problem such as premature ageing. A religious ethicist would abide by God’s commandment to ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’, and would imagine what it would be like to be a clone of another person.

It is possible that the clone would feel as though he or she is nothing more than a science experiment, and as if they had no worth as a true human being. The idea that clones might not constitute whole human beings is another idea that must be explored. Religious ethicists would believe in equality, but it would be clear that a clone would be treated as a lesser human being as it would be a mere copy of something that is already alive- it would not be unique like all other humans.

This would then raise further issues as to whether a cloned human is subject to the same rights as other humans, which may result in it being unlawfully treated and may suffer unnecessarily, which a religious ethicist would wholeheartedly disagree with. Another debate that affects the way such biotechnology is seen is the debate about when human life actually begins. This issue affects topics such as embryonic cloning, where embryos are cloned for research purposes and stem cell therapy (the use of the earliest developed cells within an embryo that have the ability to grow into any cell in the human body for organ transplants).

Roman Catholics believe that, from the moment an egg is fertilised, the life is considered to be human, and is sacred. The zygote is thought to be a human being with full rights, and must be regarded as a child of God, even though it has few characteristics of an adult human. The Roman Catholic Church is, therefore, rationally and implacably opposed to embryo research and cloning (because this contradicts natural law which demands conception and birth in the conventional, God-given way only). Clearly, stem cell therapy is also ruled out. Other sections of the Christian church, however, regard the embryo as only a potential human life.

The views on embryonic research range from opposition to it in extreme cases, to an acceptance that research on a cluster of human cells with the potential for human life is not the same as life threatening experiments on people. Some Christians take the view that the ‘fully human’ label can only be applied after 14 days, when cell specialisation begins, and others believe an embryo can be classed as a human at around 7/8 weeks gestation, when it technically becomes a foetus. God crafted humans in His own image as the highest point of creation, each unique, with faculties such as reason, intelligence, and a soul.

As nothing about the development of cloned humans is known yet, it would not be known if a clone would be subject to the same faculties as every other human, especially when concerning the idea of the God-given soul. Would clones have souls or not? Christians believe that the soul is immortal, and that when the body dies the soul goes to heaven. It could be possible that, as God has not created them, clones do not have souls, and would therefore not be able to reach heaven, which would create a new species of totally mortal humans which were man made against God’s will, another reason for religious ethicists to oppose cloning.

There are many reasons as to why a religious ethicist might disagree with human cloning, the most fundamental being that the idea of humans ‘playing God’ and usurping His authority could be perceived as an act of betrayal against Him. Also, there are many implications as to the treatment of the clone when it is alive- if it would succumb to psychological torment and if it would be entitled to live like all other humans in terms of its rights and place in society. Overall, a religious ethicist would certainly disagree with human cloning so as to be loyal to God and to respect Him as the only authority of creation. )

Explain how a Utilitarian would respond to your argument in a) and evaluate to what extent this would support the religious ethicist’s argument. Utilitarianism is based on the idea of the Principle of Utility, formulated by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). It is based on the idea that actions are deemed good or bad depending on their subsequent benefit or detriment to the majority of people- ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’. In response to the argument in a, Jeremy Bentham would employ the method of the Hedonic Calculus in order to come to a conclusion as to whether human cloning is acceptable or not.

Bentham created an equation by which the morality of an action was calculated, as opposed to judged, on the overall net balance of pleasure and/or pain that will ensue from the action. Bentham’s Utilitarian system of moral decision-making was dependent upon this calculation, which he termed the ‘Hedonic Calculus’. The pleasure, or utility of any ethical action should be worked out according to seven major indices or criteria: Duration- how long does the sensation last? Intensity- how intense is it? Certainty- how certain is it? Remoteness- how near is it? How soon will it come? Purity- how unspoilt and incorrupt is it?

Richness- will it lead to further pleasure? Extent- how wide are its effects? The action that alluded to the most pleasure (Hedons) and least pain (Dolors) would, according to the Hedonic Calculus, be the most morally correct action to take. ‘If something causes more pleasure overall, then it is useful to humans, and therefore morally good. ‘ – Jeremy Bentham. The Hedonic Calculus is, however, based on measuring the amount of happiness an action can generate. The idea of a human clone would create no happiness- certainly not for the majority, whom, according to Bentham, are the most important part of any decision.

When using the Hedonic Calculus to measure human cloning there would certainly be more Dolors than Hedons, resulting in Bentham coming to the same conclusion as the religious ethicist, that it is not morally acceptable. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) distinguished between different types of pleasure. Mill claimed that there were higher and lower pleasures- higher pleasures were those associated with the mind, such as intellectual pursuits, and lower pleasures which were associated with the satisfaction of the body (e. g. food etc. ).

Mill argued for a system that included the individual’s conscience, instead of the ‘harsh, mechanistic’ approach of Bentham’s act utilitarianism. For this reason, Mill would also oppose human cloning and support the argument in a) and share the religious ethicist’s point of view, as he was sensitive to human nature and emotions, and would believe that the well-being of the clone and the original person were paramount in these circumstances, not the majority, even though it would probably benefit the majority anyway if human cloning did not take place.

From a Kantian perspective, the argument in a) would correspond to that of Utilitarianism and would, therefore, support that of the religious ethicist. Kant was famous for formulating the Categorical Imperative- the idea that one should ‘act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law’ Critique of Practical Reason. One of the three fundamental principles of the Categorical Imperative is that each person has an intrinsic value, a value beyond price.

This is because humans are rational beings, and can make decisions, based on their ability to reason. As Kant believed human life to be so precious, there are absolutely no circumstances under which he would condone the manipulation of genetic material to create a life that could be subject to torment and degradation. Kant wrote in his book Metaphysics of Morals, ‘Act that you treat humanity, both in your own person and in the person of every other human being, never merely as a means, but always as an end. This means that a human being is the most important factor in any moral equation.

According to Kant, a human being can never be allowed to be the means by which a goal or purpose is achieved. When considering human cloning, one human (the original) is being used to provide genetic material for the clone, which, in turn, will be used for scientific experiment and medical advances. In both cases a human is being treated as a means to a desired end, and is strictly counter to the rules of the categorical imperative.

Kant believed that the value of a human comes from their rational, reasonable being. The removal of dignity, suffering and psychological anguish that will be suffered by the clone and the original human, who will have to cope with the fact that they are not unique, could never be justified by the fact that a greater number of people benefit. The implications of this principle are that any activity that denies the individual dignity of a human being in order to achieve its end is undeniably wrong.

Kant would therefore totally agree with the perspective of the religious ethicist and therefore the argument in a). It is possible however, that Utilitarians do agree with the idea of stem cell therapy and embryonic research. Such medical procedures will help to advance the technology that is already available, and would benefit the majority, as these newfound techniques would become available. However, there is still a problem when trying to establish when human life actually begins and what constitutes a certified human being- i. . is a 2 hours old fertilized egg of equal worth as a 23 year old adult? If there is a difference, it needs to be made clear, and could potentially have a huge affect on whether or not embryonic research and stem cell therapy (which could both benefit the majority) become everyday practice. It is clear that, from the idea of the Principle of Utility that ‘the greatest good’ would not be achieved through human cloning, despite the opportunities it can offer in terms of research and medical advancement.

Utilitarian theory would, therefore, entirely support the argument of the religious ethicist and the argument in part a). However, as Utilitarians believe that knowledge is a posteriori (known after an experience), implies that that for an ultimate decision to be made on the subject of human cloning, according to Utilitarianism, it will have to be experienced before true knowledge of its implications and consequences can be obtained.