Human Cloning or Stem Cell Research — Is it Wrong?

Question from a Site Viewer
I am from Brazil. What do you say about human cloning and stem cell research? Please see I Samuel 2:6 and Acts 17:25. Is there some prophecy about how the science would get so developed?

Tim’s Answer
I am opposed to the cloning of human life or to embryonic stem cell research. The reason I oppose the cloning of human life and embryonic stem cell research is because it appears to be contrary to the value God places on each human life. I also do not know of any prophesy in Scripture that addresses this issue.

The issue of human cloning and embryonic stem cell research is not easy. If you read the Roman Catholic Church’s position, or many Protestant church positions on the subject, you begin to understand the struggle the church has had for articulating why we believe such activity is wrong. That which we feel deeply seems to evade easy Scriptural analysis without reading into Scriptures proscriptions that are not there. I think much of the struggle with placing cloning in a Biblical concept is because Scripture was not written in a day and age when these matters were issues.

The two passages you mention (1 Samuel 2:6 and Acts 17:25) both point out that it is God who gives and sustains life. There are many other passages of Scripture that emphasize this very point, including John 1:3 (nothing exists apart from Jesus) and Colossians 1:17 (and Jesus holds everything together). Also see Deuteronomy 32:39, Psalm 104:27-30 and Isaiah 43:5. However, these truths do not do a great deal in my view towards addressing the issue.

For instance, although God creates life, it is humanity’s God-given responsibility to assist in this area, at least to some extent. In the garden humans were given the job of tending to the garden (Genesis 2:15). After the fall of humanity, God told Adam that the ground is cursed and by the sweat of work man would eat (Genesis 3:17-19). Man began planting crops and tending livestock almost immediately (Genesis 4:1-2). It is the image of the work of man blessed with the life creation of God that becomes the picture of the spiritual in 1 Corinthians 3:7 (one sows, one waters, God gives the increase). Mankind has long raised crops by sowing seed, harvesting seed, and sowing again, whether those crops be grains, fruit, nuts, dates, or other types of vegetation. Most people I know have no problem with this concept in the plant world. We selectively breed roses for beauty and fragrance. We selectively breed wheat for yield and flavor. We can take cuttings from plants and clone the plant as many times as we like. And there seems to be no Scriptural basis for opposing this work. In fact, to the extent that we can raise more food, it may be even something God favors. We understand, as Christians, that it is God who created life in such a way that such propagation is possible.

And in the animal world, humanity’s role in animal breeding has been long and fruitful. People have selectively bred animals for years to obtain certain traits. Jacob did this back in Genesis 30:31-43, where Jacob selectively bred animals so that he could get the strongest ones. And men and women have always had a role in creating life through their sexual union. And such creation has not always been for the most altruist reasons. Sometimes people have created life through sin, and yet God honors that new life. We have no Biblical basis for concluding that man should not play a role in the creation of life.

As for the end of life issues, though God is the one who takes life, mankind routinely participates in this activity as well. We harvest crops, cut down trees, we kill insects, fish, and animals of all kinds. Such activity is not against the will of God, as even Jesus gave fish to eat (Matthew 14:17-19; John 21:9-13). People also end the life of people, sometimes according to the will of God. God commanded that whoever shed man’s blood, his/her blood should also be shed by mankind (Genesis 9:6). (I note that much of the killing in the world, however, is totally in violation to the mind of God as expressed in the Holy Scriptures.)

Thus, we cannot reach the conclusion that mankind should have no role in the creation of life or in the end of life, even if that life is human.

The question, in my mind, thus comes down to whether we are invading territory that is reserved for God when we take selective breeding of animals to the stage of cloning. And of course, the ethical problems become much higher when we speak in terms of the cloning of humans.

But before we get there, we should understand one truth. Even if an animal or a person were cloned, that would not make the animal or person identical to the animal or person from whom they were cloned. The only thing identical is their genes. But most of us know identical twins who share exactly the same genes. Although there may be many similarities between them, they are not the same people. Cloning cannot reproduce you. Nor does it reproduce an animal. It only makes an animal with the same genetic code. We, and animals, are more than genetic codes.

Having established this, the resolution of the cloning issue is not easy. I am not as troubled from a Biblical perspective with cloning of animals as I am with the cloning of people. People are special in the sight of God. Animals are here (and here I will get in trouble with some people) secondary to the interests of people. This does not mean that God does not care for animals. He does. Yet, He cares far more for people (Matthew 6:26; 10:29-31).

The issue of human cloning is troubling. Some would say it is “against nature” and this makes it wrong. However, Jesus healed a lot of people with miracles that were “against nature.” I believe that to the extent that we can side with the weak against nature, we do the work of God. The vaccines and medical advances God has allowed us to have are a blessing to humanity. Smallpox is no longer the scourge of humanity, and I think that is a blessing of God in allowing people to stop a great deal of misery on the earth. If we wanted to do everything by nature, we would be hunters and gatherers and starving. Yet, Jesus never sought to return his urbane and highly civilized society to be hunters and gatherers. One burden on humanity since the Fall is to combat the effects of its curse. What we do to lessen the pain of humanity is a good thing. As John says, if we see our brother in need, and shut up our help from him, how does the love of God dwell in us (1 John 3:17)? To combat the effects of the curse of the fall seems the lifelong duty of humanity. I am not against all forms of human interaction to create life. Many couples have been blessed with children because of medical advances in this area, although I would not approve of all of them.

This brings us back to the issue of cloning of humans. While I do not find that Scripture directly forbids it, the issue does not end there. Scripture sets forth a high value to human life – so much so that God Himself came down to us and died for our lives. Life is sacred, being sanctified by the God who created it. God holds people accountable who take life.

Cloning seems to impinge on that value. With any cloning program, there are going to be the creation of numerous new embryos, many of which, and probably all initially, would be destroyed. I do not know when a cloned cell becomes a new human, but I would want to err on the side of treating it as a new human at least as early as God does. Because I do not know when that is, I am unwilling to say that a cloned stem cell, from the very beginning, is not human. If it is a human being, then it is sacred in the site of God.

What is true of cloning is also true of embryonic stem cell research. Each embryo in my view is sacred. Scripture speaks of God fashioning us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:4-5). Job treats a child who dies at childbirth and a stillborn child as being real people (Job 2:11-19). John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb at the coming of Christ (Luke 1:39-45). Biblically, we are people in God’s eyes before we are born. Historically, the church has seen the formation of the spirit of man within the body (Zechariah 12:1) as happening at conception. I think this is a sound position. As such, I think that to deliberately destroy an embryonic cell for research, even when that research may be very beneficial to another, is an evil thing. God has not given us the right to destroy a person for the medicinal benefit of another.

But what is true of embryonic stem cells is not true of other types of stem cells. Not all human cells constitute human life. I can lose a finger, or scrap my knee, and the cells I lose do not have the same moral weight as when I injure a pregnant woman and cause her to miscarry. A cloned stem cell with the potential to grow into a new human seems to me to be akin to the embryo in the pregnant woman and unlike the scrap on the knee. I think that God would regard it as human life and thus I think it should be protected.

I am not opposed to non-embryonic stem cell research. Thus, research into the intestinal stem cells does not seem to me to raise the same moral dilemma as research into embryonic stem cells. Intestinal stem cells differentiate into the various parts of the intestinal wall; they do not create another human being. For me, such research is no different than research using a portion of a liver or a kidney.

I hope this is helpful to you as you think through these issues. And may you always follow after Jesus.

tim

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