This autumn the British Government is expected to become the first in the world to endorse therapeutic cloning. MPs and peers will vote on extending the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act to adopt the proposals of the Donaldson Committee report; allowing scientists to clone stem cells from human embryos.
The technique potentially could lead to the generation of tissue for burns victims, transplant patients and those suffering from degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. Public reaction has been predictably enthusiastic, but how should we be responding as Christians?
Ethical scientific research is part of good stewardship; but the end does not justify the means. Therapeutic cloning involves the production of human embryos purely as sources of cells for the benefit of other human beings -and it is likely, given the difficulties so far encountered in cloning research, that many more embryos will be sacrificed in the refining of techniques. It is therefore ironical that the government is moving to embrace therapeutic cloning at a time when research into other far more ethical sources of tissue (such as adult stem cells) is continuing apace and showing great promise.
Sadly, the prospect of revolutionary new treatments will undoubtedly entice investors to move funds away from other less glamorous, but potentially more promising avenues of research. Furthermore, once therapeutic cloning is allowed, all that will be required for the cloning of whole human beings is a progression of small steps. The technology will be impossible to police.
An uninformed public wooed by prophecies of miracles cures, and unaware of details of techniques, likely success rates, costs involved and alternatives available will understandably vote that the perceived benefits to research outweigh any ethical considerations. But the warm welcome given to the recommendations of the Donaldson report at the height of the summer 'silly season' (when spin doctors are often most active) seems to have been based more on political expediency than wise reflection.