SBC Life Articles

Human Cloning

A report that South Korean re-searchers have cloned a human embryo demonstrates why an international ban on the practice is needed, a Southern Baptist bioethics specialist said.

The infertility specialists, working at Kyunghee University Hospital in Seoul, cloned an embryo that was a replica of a 30-year-old woman, one of the researchers announced Dec. 16.

Lee Bo-yon, one of the scientists, said, "… we can assume that a human child would be formed" if implanted in a woman, The Washington Post reported. The scientists did not take the step of transferring the embryo to a woman because of legal and ethical questions, instead destroying the embryo after it had divided into four cells, according to news reports.

While some scientists questioned the validity of the researchers' contention they had cloned a truly viable embryo, specialists in the field said the drive to clone human beings will continue.

Ben Mitchell, a Southern Baptist bioethicist, said the report shows a need for a "multinational coalition to address human cloning immediately."

"Even if in the end we find that the Koreans were not successful in cloning a human embryo, that reality is not far off," said Mitchell, consultant on biomedical and life issues for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and an associate professor of Christian ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "Someone is going to do it, unless we act swiftly and decisively.

"Sadly, the only way to prevent human cloning from taking place is to attach huge penalties to it. Public censure is a start, but it is not enough. In our world, money talks. Once an international ban on human cloning is in place, labs and research facilities that persist in experimenting with human cloning should be shut down and fined. I see no other way of dealing with this dilemma."

The South Korean researchers acted irresponsibly, Mitchell said.

"First, they created an embryo with the purpose of destroying it," he said. "Second, there were, as far as we know, no ethical review protocols in place. Any experimentation on human subjects ought to be accompanied by a thorough review process. Were this the case, this research would not have been approved."

Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, said, according to Religion News Service, "This report should send shock waves down the spines of all Americans who have thus far remained blind to the consequences of man's insistence that he is God."

While pro-life advocates believe a human being is formed at conception and the embryo should be protected, many scientists believe human embryo research should be allowed in order to produce tissue for people with such diseases as Alzheimer's and diabetes.

Recently, England's human genetics commission and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority jointly recommended the cloning of human embryos to grow tissue but did not support the transfer of cloned embryos to the womb, according to the Post. France is contemplating revising its guidelines in similar fashion next year, the Post reported.

In the United States, federal funds may not be used for human cloning, but privately funded research is not illegal. After the announcement of the cloning of the first mammal in early 1997, President Clinton issued an executive order prohibiting the use of federal funds for human cloning and calling for a voluntary moratorium on private research. The president called for a five-year ban on human cloning on recommendation from the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, but Congress did not act on such legislation.

Mitchell described Clinton's proposal and another as inadequate, saying the ERLC was opposed because embryos from fertilization were not specifically protected, the prohibition did not include private research and the ban was not indefinite. He also called for the president to work with multinational organizations to initiate a worldwide ban.

Messengers to the 1997 Southern Baptist Convention meeting adopted a resolution calling on Congress to ban all research on human embryos, as well as the cloning of human beings. The resolution also urged Congress to push for an international policy to prohibit human cloning worldwide.

Cloning became a reality in February 1997 when Scottish researchers announced they had cloned a sheep. In July of this year, Hawaiian scientists said they had cloned mice. Only a week before the report from South Korea, Japanese researchers announced they had cloned cows.