CLONING HUMAN BEINGS
Religious Perspectives on Human Cloning
by Courtney S. Campbell, Ph.D.
Oregon State University
Religion and Human Cloning: An Historical Overview
Themes in Theological Bioethics
Family and Procreation
Research and Therapy
Personhood and the Image of God
Procreation and Parenthood
Science and Technology
Human Destiny and Eschatology
Communities of Moral Discourse
Protestant Christianity: Conservative Evangelical
Protestant Christianity: Mainline
Roman Catholic Christianity
Appendix A: Annotated Bibliography
Appendix B: Bibliography
Endnotes: Sections 1 and 2
References: Section 3
In response to the cloning of a sheep in Scotland, President Clinton requested that the National
Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) investigate and make recommendations on the
prospects of human cloning by May 26, 1997. Citing matters of morality and spirituality, the
President, on March 4, 1997, imposed a temporary moratorium on federal funding of human
cloning research. This paper was prepared for NBAC to assist in its deliberations and policy
The research methods used in preparation of this report included: (1) a comprehensive
review of literature in theological biomedical ethics on human cloning since the mid-1960s;
(2) attendance at and review of the testimony of religious thinkers submitted at public hearings
before NBAC on March 13 and 14, 1997; (3) solicitation and review of ecclesiastical statements
on genetic engineering and human cloning; (4) an ongoing Nexus search to identify religious
thinkers with perspectives on human cloning discussed in print media; (5) personal or telephone
interviews with many of these thinkers. A bibliography of these sources is provided in appendices
A and B.
The report generated from this research is organized into five sections: (1) a brief
historical overview of religious thought on the ethics of human cloning; (2) a discussion of
selected themes among theological bioethicists that recur frequently in ethical evaluations of
human cloning. These themes are derived primarily from the scholarly literature of the western
faith traditions; (3) a summary of approaches to the theology, ethics, and policy of human cloning
from ten major faith traditions; (4) an appendix containing an annotated bibliography of religious
literature on human cloning in biomedical ethics; (5) an appendix containing a bibliography of
materials used in preparation of this report.
The author wishes to extend appreciation to NBAC for the invitation to prepare this
report; to Dr. James Childress, NBAC, for procedural and substantive suggestions; to Dr. Joan
Woolfrey, Oregon State University, for compilation of research materials; to librarians at the
National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature, Georgetown University, and at The Hastings
Center for research assistance; to many religious thinkers who provided time for interviews and
provided research materials; and to Lois Summers for assistance in manuscript preparation.
RELIGION AND HUMAN CLONING: AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
It is possible to identify four overlapping time frames in which theologians and religious thinkers
have engaged the scientific prospects and ethics of human cloning. The first phase of
consideration occurred in the mid-1960s. This early discussion was shaped by a context of
expanded choices and control of reproduction (for example, availability of the birth control pill),
the prospects of alternative, technologically assisted reproduction (for example, in vitro
fertilization, or IVF), and advocacy by prominent biologists and geneticists of cloning “preferred”
genotypes to avoid overloading the human gene pool with deleterious genes and thereby placing
the survival of the human species at risk.
Prominent theologians engaged in these initial discussions of genetic manipulation and
human cloning included Charles Curran, Bernard Häring, Richard McCormick, and Karl Rahner
within Roman Catholicism and Protestants Joseph Fletcher and Paul Ramsey. The latter two
staked out diametrically opposed positions and envisioned a world of human cloning that is
remarkably prescient given the state of current discussion.
Fletcher advocated expansion of human freedom (autonomy) and control over human
reproduction. He portrayed human cloning as one among a variety of present and prospective
reproductive options that could be ethically justified under circumstances of overriding societal
benefit. Indeed, for Fletcher, human cloning was a preferable method of reproduction relative to
the “genetic roulette” of sexual reproduction: Laboratory reproduction was “radically human”
because it was deliberate, designed, chosen, and willed [9–12].
By contrast, Paul Ramsey portrayed cloning as a “borderline,” or moral boundary, for
medicine and society that could be crossed only at risk of compromise to humanity and to
procreation. He identified three “horizontal” (person-person) and two “vertical” (person-God)
border-crossings of cloning: (1) Clonal reproduction would require dictated or managed breeding
to serve the scientific ends of a controlled gene pool. (2) Cloning would involve non-therapeutic
experimentation on the unborn. (3) Cloning would assault the meaning of parenthood by
transforming “procreation” into “reproduction” and by severing the unitive and the procreative
ends of human sexual expression. Theologically, cloning represented (4) the sins of pride or hubris
and (5) of self-creation in which human beings aspire to become a man-God [27, 28]. The legacy
of Ramsey has been especially noticeable in post-Dolly theological reflection .
A second distinctive era began in 1978, which was notable for two events, the birth of the
first IVF baby, Louise Brown, and the publication of David Rorvik’s In His Image, an account
alleging the creation of the first human clone . While Christian theologians concentrated on
the ethical issues raised by IVF, Jewish scholars such as Seymour Siegel and Fred Rosner directed
attention to human cloning and were neither as supportive as Fletcher nor as indicting as Ramsey.
They instead expressed a need for more extensive discussion of the topic within the Jewish
This period also witnessed the beginning of formal ecclesiastical involvement with
questions of genetic manipulation. In 1977, the United Church of Christ produced a study booklet
on “Genetic Manipulation” that appears to be the earliest reference among Protestant
denominational literature to human cloning . It provided a general overview of the science
and ethics of human cloning, while stopping short of rendering any specific theological verdict.
Protestant-organized bodies, such as the World Council of Churches (1975, 1982, 1989) and the
National Council of Churches of Christ (1980, 1983, 1986), as well as some individual
denominations, issued resolutions or position statements giving cautious endorsement to genetic
interventions for therapeutic purposes. In addition, concerns expressed in 1979 by Jewish,
Protestant, and Roman Catholic leaders about genetic engineering led President Jimmy Carter to
request an examination of the scientific, ethical, and social issues of gene splicing by the
President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and
The blastomere separation of human embryos at George Washington University in 1993
initiated a third era of religious discussion. The Roman Catholic tradition expressed vigorous
opposition, with a Vatican editorial denouncing the research as “intrinsically perverse.” Catholic
moral theologians invoked norms of individuality, dignity, and wholeness to assess the ethics of
the study [20, 21, 24, 32]. Conservative Protestant scholars held the research contravened basic
notions of personhood, such as freedom, the sanctity of life, and the image of God. Other
Protestant scholars recognized potential medical benefits from the research and advocated
regulation rather than prohibition.
The fourth and most recent stage of religious discussion has come in the wake of the
successful cloning of “Dolly” by Scottish researchers. Roman Catholic and conservative
Protestant discussion has reiterated past opposition and warnings. Writing in the Christian
Century, for example, Protestant theologian Allen Verhey has drawn on the arguments against
human cloning initially voiced by Paul Ramsey and concluded that an account of the good life in a
family is “inhospitable” to cloning [36, 38].
However, some Protestant thinkers, reflecting on the meaning of human partnership with
ongoing divine creative activity, have expressed qualified support for cloning research and human
cloning. Jewish and Islamic thinkers have encouraged continuing laboratory research on animal
and human cloning, while expressing deep moral reservations about transfer of a cloned human
embryo to a womb for purposes of gestation and birth. The testimony presented to NBAC in
public hearings on March 13 and 14, 1997, provides the most considered statements of
theological examination in this renewed discussion of the ethics of cloning research and its
implications for human cloning.
Several conclusions can be drawn from this brief historical overview:
There is a sustained theological engagement with the issue of cloning that
anticipates and illuminates much contemporary discussion.
There is no monolithic religious perspective on human cloning. Theological and
ecclesiastical positions exhibit the pluralism characteristic of American religiosity.
Despite changes in scientific research and technical capability, the values that
underlie religious concerns about human cloning have displayed durability and
staying power and have informed public consciousness and debate.
The religious discussion no longer is limited to professional theologians. It has
expanded to encompass other professionals, including scientists, and other faith
traditions, as well as education of religious adherents. Religious traditions have
gradually aspired to be informed communities of moral discourse on issues of
reproductive and genetic technologies.
THEMES IN THEOLOGICAL BIOETHICS
Theological discourse about human cloning has adopted either of two methods (and often both)
of practical reasoning . A first approach relies on a form of moral casuistry: It examines the
extent to which human cloning is relevantly continuous with already “familiar” ethical contexts
and issues. For example, a theological discussion may draw attention to the occurrence of
“natural” clones, i.e., identical twins, and proceed to inquire in what respects laboratory-created
clones are morally or theologically similar to or different from this already accepted social context
for raising children. Casuistical argumentation presupposes the validity of the formal principle of
justice (treat similar cases similarly); the central question in an ethical assessment will be the
interpretation of human cloning as similar or dissimilar to certain social structures or medical
practices already valued or criticized by society and the faith tradition. Lacking direct revelation
on human cloning in sacred texts, casuistical and analogical reasoning has been a characteristic
part of religious argumentation. The significant point is that conclusions about human cloning are
influenced in large measure by the framing ethical context.
A second, and often complementary, mode of practical reasoning involves application of
the moral and anthropological norms of the faith tradition to generate an ethical assessment of
human cloning. For example, perhaps the most common norm of western theological
anthropology invoked in the discussion of human cloning is that human beings are created in the
“image of God” (imago Dei). This concept, which is very rich in ethical content, is then applied
by methods of religious reasoning to provide a perspective or conclusion on human cloning in
general, or the theological and moral status of any given clone (the status, for example, of a clone
as an ensouled entity with full claims as a person).
This section will examine the principal theological themes in the western faith traditions
that emerge in both the casuistical and normative modes of practical reasoning and analysis. It will
begin with the casuistical approach, which seeks to identify the ethical contexts deemed relevantly
similar to human cloning so as to warrant methods of analogical reasoning.
Family and Procreation
The family has been invoked as the prime social institution, and in some traditions, a
divinely ordained institution for the bearing and nurturing of children. Within Roman Catholic
moral teaching, procreation and education of offspring is a principle of natural law. Paul
Ramsey’s opposition to human cloning stemmed in part from a view that Christians perform their
primary responsibility to future generations through procreation and care for children. Jewish and
Islamic law each impose fundamental duties and responsibilities through spousal, parenting, and
familial relationships and through intergenerational ties.
The question of human cloning is thus theologically approached not from the secular
standpoint of personal rights and individual autonomy, but rather from a framing context of
familial relationships and responsibilities that society already values. The casuistical concern is the
extent to which this relational and moral context can accommodate such cloning possibilities as a
“replacement” child, laboratory twinning in place of natural twinning, or children with a genetic
grandfather but no genetic father.
Core moral criteria for faith traditions in addressing these prospects include the impact of
human cloning on the integrity of the family, the nature of parenthood, the role of marital
sexuality and procreation, and the identity of a child. As noted above, in the wake of the recent
cloning of “Dolly,” Allen Verhey has appealed to the concept of a “good life in a family” to reject
the prospects of human cloning. Verhey maintains that the primary justifications for human
cloning— appeals to the principle of freedom and the principle of utility— are necessary but
insufficient guidelines for the moral life of a family. In particular, Verhey focuses his critique on
the potential disruption of the parent-child relationship: Human cloning risks transforming
children into “products” of technological achievement rather than “gifts” created in love .
The stability of family is not a sufficient moral perspective by which to evaluate human
cloning, but it is a necessary consideration within a religious framework. Islamic thought, for
example, affirms that, since the family is intrinsic to a well-functioning society, cloning procedures
that separate the spiritual and moral relations of spouses, and those of parents and children, may
undermine the foundation for human community in general . It is not a compelling
counterargument to contend that social realities of familial life and relationships do not match
theological idealism, for the moral and policy question in part is whether society should
deliberately support alternative modes of reproduction outside marital love and procreation.
A second casuistical context that shapes religious responses to human cloning is the
increasing acceptability and availability of various forms of reproductive technology. The
widespread use of such procedures indicates that even if conjugal relations are a preferred setting
for human procreation, it can be ethically acceptable to have recourse to methods of donor
insemination or in vitro fertilization within or outside of a marital relationship. Joseph Fletcher
argued that human cloning should be viewed as simply another option in a spectrum of asexual
reproduction tailored to an expanding menu of human reproductive rights and choice. Given that
society has already accepted donor insemination, egg donations, in vitro fertilization, contract
pregnancy, embryo transfers, and so forth, the question must be asked whether and how cloning is
unique or distinctive from these other practices.
This question is relevant even if, as in the case of the Roman Catholic tradition, none of
the above practices is considered morally licit. In her testimony to NBAC, Prof. Lisa Cahill
suggested a radical discontinuity between current reproductive technologies and cloning, using
the language of “genuine revolution” to refer to human cloning . The revolutionary impact of
human cloning needs explication, however, to warrant drawing a moral and policy line between
current reproductive technologies and prospective cloning. By contrast, Rabbi Elliot Dorff and
Rabbi Moshe Tendler assimilated cloning within current medical practices, suggesting that human
cloning was morally “easier” for the Jewish tradition than donor insemination or egg donation,
because it would not raise issues of consanguineous relationships or “non-therapeutic”
reproductive techniques [6, 34]. Prof. Abdulaziz Sachedina’s identification of a consensus in
Islamic scholarship on therapeutic uses of cloning also presumes an important continuity between
human cloning and such procedures as in vitro fertilization .
The question of the moral uniqueness of cloning inevitably imposes itself on religious
traditions. Theologian Roger L. Shinn has put the religious dilemma this way: “I know of no way
of drawing a line and saying: thus far, scientific direction and control are beneficial; beyond this
line they become destructive manipulation” . Absent a complete prohibition on reproductive
technology, any moral or policy line-drawing will seem arbitrary unless a distinctive feature of
human cloning can be identified.
Nonetheless, there are reasons why faith traditions would resist treating human cloning as
continuous with reproductive technologies for policy purposes. The latter is unregulated and
relies on good-faith compliance with professionally developed guidelines for ethical practice.
There is, however, no current mechanism of public oversight or accountability. Secondly, the
political language of reproductive technology is that of “choice” and “rights,” whereas religious
traditions more commonly invoke an ethic of “duty” or “responsibility” in the context of
procreation and parenting.
Research and Therapy
A third moral context invoked by theological bioethics concerns a distinction between
non-therapeutic and therapeutic research. A principal objection to human cloning articulated by
Ramsey, and reiterated by many subsequent theologians, is that human cloning will inevitably
involve non-therapeutic research on the unborn without valid consent. The current inefficiency of
mammalian cloning technology (the production of Dolly was the only technical success in a
research project involving 278 sheep embryos) has suggested to religious thinkers that cloning of
human embryos for research or for transfer and gestation will result in morally significant loss of
potential human life. This is of particular concern for the Roman Catholic tradition, given its
teaching that the preimplantation human embryo is entitled to full moral respect and dignity. In
arguing against blastomere separation, for example, Richard McCormick claims that less than full
respect for the human pre-embryo as potential human life will lead to diminished respect for all
pre-nascent life . While Protestant theologians such as Ronald Cole-Turner see no theological