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Outlaw cloning immediately, SBC bioethicist tells panel

WASHINGTON (BP)–The cloning of human beings, including embryos, should be outlawed immediately, a Southern Baptist bioethicist said in testimony submitted to a congressional panel.

Ben Mitchell, consultant on biomedical and life issues for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in written testimony for a House of Representatives subcommittee human cloning is not only objectionable morally and scientifically, but it “would upset traditional family patterns” and raise questions society is ill-prepared to address.

Mitchell’s testimony was submitted for a March 28 hearing at which both proponents and foes of human cloning testified. The hearing was before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Most of the reasons given for cloning a human being would be immoral, because a clone would have to be considered a human person, Mitchell said.

“From a Christian perspective, a cloned human being would be as much a person as any other human being,” he said. “She would be an embodied soul and would be an imager of God. As an imager of God, human clones would possess the same dignity and divinely bestowed moral worth as any other member of our species.”

As a person, a clone should be treated with the same dignity bestowed on a human being conceived through normal reproduction, said Mitchell, who also is associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity International University in suburban Chicago.

“Thus, human clones would not be suitable ‘organ farms’ for those needing transplantable organs,” he said. “Human clones would not be acceptable ‘substitutes’ for children who died leaving their parents grief-stricken. Human clones, likewise, would be ethically unacceptable candidates as ‘icons’ in some kind of narcissistic cult of self-worship.”

Cloning experimentation on human embryos “is wrong on the face of it,” Mitchell wrote. Before the first mammal, the sheep Dolly, was successfully cloned, 276 embryos “were sacrificed on the altar of biotechnology,” he said. “While this might be an acceptable practice when cloning sheep (providing the sheep were not abused in the lab), such experimentation would be unconscionable when applied to human embryos.”

Cloning research on animals has shown cloning human beings would result not only in “untold loss of life” but “grotesque consequences in the lives of those who survived,” he said. Developmental and genetic abnormalities are common in animal clones, Mitchell said, citing researchers.

Some homosexuals have endorsed human cloning as a way to produce families without restrictions, Mitchell said. Human cloning also raises questions about the purpose of reproduction, he said.

From a biblical viewpoint, reproduction is a “covenant responsibility” granted by God, Mitchell said.

Children “are to be viewed as a divine gift, not a narcissistic means of self-definition,” he said. “[T]he time is long overdue for us to re-examine and recommit ourselves as a culture to fulfill our obligations to our children as treasured members of the familial covenant — not commodities to be used for our desired ends.”

Other concerns raised by human cloning, he said, include:

— “To what extent children have a right to expect to have a mother and father.

— “How do we combat the inherent eugenics motivations behind human cloning?

— “Would persons with disease genes be cloned? Would the near-sighted, far-sighted or deaf be cloned? Would the obese or frail be cloned?”

Mitchell acknowledged a human being might be cloned soon. “The near inevitability of cloning does not, however, make its imminence more welcome,” he said. “We are exquisitely ill-equipped morally to deal with the reality of a human clone in our midst.”

Mitchell criticized the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, a presidentially appointed panel, for failing to condemn the cloning of human embryos when it said it was morally unacceptable to “attempt to create a child” through cloning. It “seems clear that NBAC and President Clinton left the gate wide open for privately funded embryo research, including embryo cloning. We are now paying for their moral negligence,” he said.

He would support cloning human genes for research, as well as human cells and organs, “as long as the means of getting there does not treat humans subhumanly,” Mitchell said.