It is much said now that human cloning is blasphemy with respect to God
In 1996, embryologist Ian Wilmut managed to conduct an experiment and produce sheep stem cells. Even though the term is rather complicated, the very fact is as scientifically important as the discovery of the law of gravity. The discovery eliminated the last barrier hampering cloning of people and animals.
On February 23, 1997 the world's first mammal having neither mother nor father came into the world. It was sheep named Dolly that had an ovule donor, a genetic material donor and a surrogate mother. Four months after the event, Rosin Institute and PPL Therapeutics reported the birth of five more cloned sheep. One of the sheep had a human gene. This creature (may it be called an animal if it was cloned?) could give milk that had the same characteristics that mother's milk.
In fact, these were just all the experiments where geneticists were a success. It was proved through experiments that cloning was possible, but nothing more. As it turned out later, cloned animals are less viable than their natural origins. Out of the six sheep Dolly was the only that lived longer and it aged before the eyes of the researches.
As for cloning of humans, science hasn't yet advanced in this respect. But the very probability of human cloning causes much dispute among scientists and ordinary people. Today this is rather an ethic problem than just a technical one. Many people ask if people can do what has always been the prerogative of God.
The history of mankind reveals what consequences experiments of this kind may entail. Long ago there was only one people with one language on the planet. That lasted until the people decided to build a pillar to reach the skies and to become like God. As a result, they were scattered and couldn't understand each other as they were given different languages. We don't know yet how human cloning experiments may end, but it is not ruled out that they may become the end of the present-day civilization.
The human cloning disputes are still burning; there are different opinions voiced by supporters and opponents of the idea. Religious leaders and the clergy are the main opponents to human cloning. The church strongly objects to any kind of interference into the sphere of God's responsibility. But why does the church so strongly object to experiments of this kind?
Priest Sergey Knyazev, the editor-in-chief of the Pravoslavnaya Udmurtia (Orthodox Udmurtia) newspaper explains the opinion of the Russian Orthodox Church.
- Father Sergey, it is much said now that human cloning is blasphemy with respect to God. Tell us what is the attitude of the Orthodox Church to the problem?
I read a lot, particularly about the events going on in the science, and I think I am a well-read man. My opinion is that cloning is not what is actually done. There is no guarantee that human cloning is possible at all. No experimental results have been have been achieved in the sphere. The sensational statements made in this respect in the press are just bubbles.
I know that cloning experiments have been performed on plants; there were even some performed on animals. However nobody has succeeded yet with mass experiments. This is interesting that the experiments revealed that cloned creatures are less viable than their natural originals. It means that cloning hasn't yet achieved any considerable success yet. Very often scientists indulge in wishful thinking when they speak about the results of cloning experiments even though experiments of this kind have been already performed before.
Let's take artificial intellect for instance. The whole of the world experienced some kind of euphoria when works of Norbert Wiener and other specialists on artificial intellect appeared first in the mid-1950s. At that very period it was believed that artificial intellect would be created within the nearest time. Today, scientists have a more perfect technical basis and greater opportunities as compared with those that scientists had at that time, but we are still further from the problem than we had been in the mid-1950s. This is what we have with the human cloning problem too: there is much ado about the problem but still no results.
- What if we look into the future? This is not ruled out that cloning will be possible in 20-30 years.
If we speak about human cloning hypothetically, it may happen so that some day the science will be so perfect that human cloning will be possible from technical point of view. But there are things that people won't be able to cognize as a human being is not God. God won't let people understand this. Being a priest, I am absolutely sure that God won't let people do this shocking act as this is encroachment upon God's rights and will. What soul and consciousness will a cloned person have? Only atheist people who don't believe in God may treat the problem of human cloning with such responsibility; such people think that a human being is just a paragraph in organic chemistry and applied biology.
The whole of the problem is for what purposes we plan to clone people. I doubt that someone is ready to spend much money on cloning just for the sake of cloning itself. From the moral point of view, this is wrong to challenge God just for the sake of our interest in the problem.
People pursue rather practical interests. However, in most cases scientists explain the necessity to clone people as production of donor materials. In other words, scientists say it is possible to make cloned people so that their parts could be further used in case if their relatives need operations.
The church strongly objects to this purpose of cloning. And this is at the same time when the church has nothing against using of donors and transplantation operations (if a man dies and his soul has expired it is not ruled out that the body of the man can be used for good purposes). But the clergy think that cloning for the sake of using cloned people as donors is inadmissible. This is terrible to imagine that first scientists make up people who probably have souls but then kill them to get organs. This is as awful as premeditated murder. This is blasphemy. That is why the Orthodox Church strongly objects to human cloning as we see for what purposes these experiments are carried out.
- Will cloned humans have souls or not?
We don't know it yet, there have been no precedent so far. A human being has his soul since the very moment of his conception. What does a cloned human get if no father cells are required for his conception?
This is strange. If this creature has no soul then it will be a mere piece of meat having primitive reflexes. But if this being still has a soul, then the results may be still terrible if we take into account the purposes for which he is created.
The Russian Orthodox Church and other confessions (Islam, Buddhism) have a clearly defined opinion that a soul of a human being is formed at a moment when he is conceived, when male and female gametes merge. At this very moment a human becomes a human indeed. It is hardly likely that this unique process can be reproduced with any mechanical methods.
- What should be the attitude to artificial impregnation then? This is an artificial process as well; this is not natural birth of a human.
Excuse me, artificial impregnation is not like cloning. To perform it doctors use natural material; the very process is very much like conception naturally determined for people. This operation is performed to eliminate problems in women's bodies. Attitude of the church to artificial impregnation is rather quiet. This is a great and sacred thing for women to have babies. The church will never object to making women healthy and to helping them have children.
- How do you treat cloning of animals and plants?
As far as I know no anathema has been pronounced on such experiments. The Russian Orthodox Church has never been negative toward genetic engineering experiments. My opinion is that the experiments of this kind are performed for people's good, so that we could have bigger harvest and overcome hunger in some parts of the planet. These experiments are done to reduce the number of the poor and make our lives better.
The church is perfectly aware of the problem of the poor and the destitute. This is perfectly admissible that such methods are welcome for solution of the food problems of mankind. Why not? This is important to mind God while performing these experiments.
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