Apr 072002

If this weekend’s scientific reports are true, then humankind has crossed another questionable boundary in our species’ storied history of boundary-crossing. Two egghead doctors, Severino Antinori and Panos Zavos, sacrificed their medical and scientific credibility in order to be the first people to clone people.

According to reports, the cloned human is living it up in the warm uterine confines of an anonymous test-female in an undisclosed location somewhere (I’m picturing a foreboding castle on a tall, moonlit hill in Transylvania). The woman is the first successful test subject out of thousands of infertile women who entered Zavos & Antinori’s human cloning program.

Right now, much of the world’s respectable medical establishment is aghast /_” and it’s really no wonder. While clones have successfully been produced in at least five mammalian species, the vast majority of cloning attempts have been failures. Take, for instance, Dolly the sheep: the world’s first high-profile animal clone was the lone success in 247 pregnancies. It’s the 246 failures that cause the global scientific community to cringe.

Cloned fetuses are frequently prone to abnormally quick growth rates that cause them to spontaneously abort, putting the health of the mother at risk. Those clones that do make it to term (slightly more than 1%) typically feature severe defects /_” everything from underdeveloped lungs and malfunctioning livers to hideous head deformities. Since cloning is largely unnecessary and carries with it the potential for a tremendous amount of pain, it’s easy to understand the widespread revulsion of the medical community.

However, what’s always confused me is the fact that the most vocal and strident condemnation of cloning typically comes from the religious right.

“Playing God” is the over-used cliche that’s usually uttered when science starts investigating and experimenting with the basic building blocks of life. The idea is that some aspects of human life are sacred and scientific inquiry into these areas is akin to traipsing across hallowed ground.

The “playing God” phrase, when used as an attempted deterrent to cloning, is a very problematic argument. If making new life is “playing God,” then humans already do that regularly /_” less than regularly, in my case /_” when they copulate. The creation of life is the creation of life. What does it matter if it’s performed awkwardly by naked teenagers in the backseat of a car or in a sterile fashion by geeky technicians in labcoats?

Besides, if I’ve ever learned one thing about the Judeo-Christian version of God, it’s that we don’t “play” Him /_” He plays us. If God is aware of every move we’d make long before we were even born, and if the prospect of cloning really does annoy or threaten Him, then it stands to reason that He would’ve created a human race incapable of ever denucleating and renucleating fertilized eggs in test tubes. Or, at the very least, He could’ve forbid the futuristic practice by issuing an eleventh commandment or something.

What the religious right (specifically mainstream Christianity) doesn’t understand is that cloning can be highly beneficial in its potential to expedite the cheery events prophesied in the Book of Revelations. If the famed “Shroud of Turin” is the legitimate burial cloth of Christ, and if globules of His blood are trapped in the fibers of the garment, then it’s suspiciously convenient that a specimen of The Carpenter’s DNA is in the possession of the Catholic Church /_” Jesus’ biggest and most powerful fan club.

For once, mainstream Christianity seems to be in agreement with the mainstream scientific community. The irony is that their position blinds them to the possibility that they could be sitting on an eschatological goldmine.

Jon Watkins is a senior majoring in English.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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