Though it was not the only reason, the American Civil War was fought in part because a significant percentage of the population came to be seen as less than completely human. It is said if we don’t learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it and the only thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn anything from history. As such, if society as a whole does not stop to consider certain bio-technical developments now being considered, the world could be in for a nightmare that could make the bloodshed, death, and heartache of the Civil War pale in comparison.
In popular culture and elite scientific circles alike, cloning is being heralded as a process through which humanity will be ushered onto the cusp of a golden age in terms of advances in the areas of agriculture and medicine. As with most advances, those with an entrepreneurial inclination are already positioning themselves to take advantage economically of the opportunities looming on the horizon.
For example, on April 3, 2001, the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued Patent US 6,211,429 for a process for animal cloning. One must keep in mind that, apart from agricultural applications, such research is initially tried on animals with the hopes of eventually perfecting the techniques for human usage.
One scholar concerned about the application of this utilitarian mindset to human beings where people could end up being used as something not all that different than barnyard livestock is Paige Cunningham of the Center For Bioethics and Human Dignity. In response, he has formulated a set of principles that could very well stop this tragedy before things get too far out of hand.
The first principle has been stated as the following: “Every human being, however conceived or created, is unique and deserving of protection. From a religious perspective, humans are different than animals and above all animals because humans alone are created in the image of God.” This principle is Biblical as it respects the individuality of the human being as a unique creation no matter how he might have been brought into the world. Even though we might find it unsettling that an individual might be grown in a laboratory and not as the result of a loving (or at least pleasurable) coupling of his parents, that is no reason why, as Cunningham’s declaration argues, such a person should not be granted the same privileges and protections enjoyed by the remainder of our species.
Part of the justification for the first principle, while theologically sound from a religious perspective, that human beings are different than animals because humans alone are created in the image of God, unfortunately may be tougher to sell in a culture contaminated by Darwinian materialism. It is not only from a religious perspective that human beings are different from the remainder of the animal kingdom but in the manner of our fundamental ontology as well. When was the last time someone saw chimpanzees constructing medical facilities or dolphins cogitating on declarations to protect themselves from doing harm to one another? Someone might think they are an animal when it comes to themselves but seldom do they want to be treated like one.
Cunningham’s second principle has been stated thusly: “Every human being has the right to individual autonomy; i.e. that his or her bodily integrity must not be invaded or compromised by others.” The first principle was forceful in its conviction to the point of almost being too explicitly religious in that it overlooked the biological uniqueness of man in favor of the theological,. The second, though well intended, rings with a bit of the vagueness this declaration was promulgated to protect against.
While the Christian can agree with the principle that in most instances that the bodily integrity of the individual must not be invaded or compromised by others, the proposition is not always absolute. Unless enunciated in a strong pro-life context as intended, platitudes about not compromising the bodily integrity of the individual were the very kind of statements that got the ball rolling down the hill of human devaluation in the first place all in the name of “choice” and banshees wailing in the street slogans such as “keep your laws off my body”. One must be clear that the unborn child (either growing in the womb or in the laboratory) possesses the same protections against bodily harm as those enjoyed by the parents.
The third principle, that no person has the right to enslave, own, or control any human being regardless of their stage of biological development is a sound reminder of the basic principles this nation was founded upon, went through numerous struggles to extend to all those living here, and continues to expand into the twenty-first century. This principle does a superb job of upholding the innate dignity of the individual as created in the image of God and the equality of all men before Him irrespective of their power or status.
The fourth principle contends that any organism that is genetically human is a human being. While this statement is necessary in this Postmodern age that loves nothing better than to play word games in an attempt to justify all kinds of moral outrages, in academic circles and the popular press where secular philosophy and the Christian worldview clash almost constantly the position may already be in need of modification.
Though it may sound like science fiction, there is a growing movement called “Transhumanism” that seeks to expand the abilities of mankind beyond the limitations imposed by the biology of the species through genetic or technological enhancements. Some propose to accomplish this by combining human and animal DNA.
Therefore, at some point ethicists, theologians, and concerned scientists are going to have to sit down and hash out what is the bare minimum of human DNA a person can have and still be considered a human being. For example, is an organism with only 90% human DNA worthy of protection as a human being? Such statements may cause one to chuckle, but the matter is so serious, according to Tom Horn of RaidersNewsUpdate.com, that neuroscientists experimenting on mice by injecting human brain cells into the skulls of these rodents are under orders to destroy these vermin if they start to exhibit signs of intelligence.
The fifth principle holds that “A cloned embryo is distinct and separate from the person donating the genetic material, and therefore is a unique being protected in law.” This is a principle that Christians need to be at the forefront of championing.
Often the cloning discussion is framed in terms of setting aside a genetic savings account for a rainy day. For example, if someone needed a spare kidney or liver, one could simply thaw out a non-sentient replicant kept in suspended animation for just such an emergency. However, what really happens when a cloning takes place is more akin to forming a twin of oneself or, if one is unsettled by such age differences between siblings, parenting a child in a non-traditional format. As close as these human relationships are, at no time may we use our family members as spare parts without their consent.
The last principle holds that, “No person or institution has the right to control or profit from any process designed to clone a human being.” While it is a good idea to take the profitability and power out of the cloning process as such an action would cut down on firms entering into this undertaking (including government), if we wait to the point where we attempt to regulate the procedure where it is legislated that the technique must benefit all mankind, things may have already reached the point of no return. Such a response would imply that cloning had already become widespread. Rather, Christians in positions of influence should instead get busy cultivating, as Pope John Paul II use to call it, an ethic of life where blatant disregard for other human beings is such an anathema that no self-respecting scientist would consider participating in such research.
Overall, the policy declaration suggested by Paige Cunningham is to be commended as a good starting point for those within the church to start thinking about these kinds of issues that they may have not taken the time to consider previously but that are about to role over our country and change it in fundamental ways that we do not like unless we rise up now to set things on a better moral path.
Frederick Meekins is an independent theologian and social critic. Frederick holds a BS in Political Science/History, a MA in Apologetics/Christian Philosophy from Trinity Theological Seminary, and a PhD. in Christian Apologetics from Newburgh Theological Seminary.