Discussion on Ethics of techniques in Cloning and IVF

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  1. Overview of the production of viable Zygotes
  2. Development of embryos
  3. Therapy from stem cells and genetic engineering
  4. Failure rates in unusually  zygotes produced by unusual methods
  5. Biblical perspective  Rights and wrongs


1. Overview

The chart in the IVF or Assisted Conception core page shows the different paths to produce a zygote.

Zygotes for all these processes, if intended for implantation would be grown to about the eight cell stage. Then tested for genetic abnormality. Satisfactory eggs could then be implanted.

Ooplasm transfer (Dr. Jacques Cohen, New Jersey)  - adds mitochondria from the donor cell although it adds no nuclear DNA.

The testing process requires

a. visual examination - a considerable number of genetic abnormalities can be discerned visibly

b. removal of one cell from the blastula or morulla

c. if a specific family history indicates the presence of a family history towards certain problems then those problems can be looked for.
e.g. Turner's syndrome - missing X chromosome - (all other missing chromosome abnormalities either abort naturally or fail to implant). Most Common from an extra chromosome is Down's Syndrome (extra chromosome 21), other possible are e.g. Klinefelter's (extra X), Patu's (extra 13) and Edwards (extra 18).


2. Development of Embryos

There is a lot of controversy surround the use of embryo's for experimental research.

So first some information about the development of an embryo and then some ideas and arguments. (see human development chart )

The zygote, (the single cell formed from the fusion of sperm and ovum), begins dividing after about 30 hours.
For the next 5 days every cell in the forming morulla is absolutely identical.
As growth by division proceeds the morulla or blastula, becomes a hollow sphere of cells called a blastocyst. The outer cells of the ball will become the placenta and the inner cells will develop into the embryo and thence into the baby.
By day 7-9 if this is taking place inside a female, the cell ball will implant and begin to develop further.
Round about day 14 or shortly following the first signs of cell differentiation take place. A dark streak can be seen across the centre of the ball of cells. This streak will become the spinal chord. At this point the cell mass is called an embryo and further differentiation takes place until by eight weeks every kind of tissue is present, and the beginnings of every organ that will be present in the fully formed adult.

So up to 14 days all the cells in the mass are identical. They are known as Stem Cells, because all other cell types stem from them.

3. Therapy from Stem Cells & genetic engineering.

There are several important arguments relating to the use of stem cells (cells from the morulla or blastocyst) for research and therapy. (Therapeutic Cloning)

4. Failure of Zygotes produced by unusual means.

Cloning is not an exact science. It is about the manipulation of of cells on a gross scale.
A micropippette is inserted into the egg cell. The nucleus is removed and replaced with the nucleus from another cell from an adult cell.
Then with an electric jolt the cell is tricked into thinking that it is a fertilised egg and it sets off growing.

Dolly: was created from the single success in 277 attempts to produce a viable zygote.

Copy Kitten: is the only resulting kitten from 87 embryos originally created.


5. Biblical Perspective

How does the practice measure up to biblical themes.

What are the major biblical ethical  themes and how do they apply here?

The themes are I see are:

  1. Responsibility to nurture, tend, and care for the world and its contents.
  2. An aversion to violence but not to conflict.
  3. A search for a dynamic peace.
  4. Anger at the exploitation of the vulnerable.
  5. A search for personal and corporate righteousness.
  6. Living for justice, respect and freedom.

Which of these would it be right to draw into an examination of this issue. First responsibility, second exploitation, third respect.

    Responsibility is one of the key themes of the bible finding its root in the creation stories in the book of Genesis.( Genesis 2.15 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.)  Here is the suggestion that the world and all that is in it  is our to use, but not to abuse. Is there then a sense in which cloning is an abuse of an ovum. It certainly is against one part of its "telos". While its global purpose is to produce a human being, it is also designed to produce a human being sharing a particular set of genes. Cloning changes that part of its purpose. Overall you may feel that that level of change is not sufficient to warrant the charge of abuse. Whereas you might say that using that ovum in a transgenic way, to produce a cow, or a cow ovum to produce a human might be an abuse (Babel's Shadow, Pete Moore, pg. 121, on the work of Jose Cibelli)

    Generally though, if the aim is to produce a healthy human infant, I personally do not feel that is abuse, and would therefore find cloning not ruled out on this count.

    Exploitation as a biblical theme is applied to human beings. (e.g. Deuteronomy 10.17, 18.   For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.)

    Divine anger is directed at those who exploit the weak and vulnerable. However this is not applied to things but to people. An egg is not a human being, we may argue separately that it has special status, but in its pre-embryonic unfertilised state it is just an egg. This biblical concept of exploitation would need stretching to apply here.

    Exploitation does have something to add. There are vulnerable people as well as misguided people who would seek for cloning. Just as with IVF those who come, driven by a strong desire to have their own children are emotionally vulnerable. The free market economy does easily allow for exploitation. Hence there would always be a need, as is seen IVF in the UK, for clear guidelines and regulations. Perhaps even a way of controlling charges and costs so that such couples receive always a professional level of care and treatment that is not designed to consume their assets.

    It might however be brought to bear in a different way. What is the purpose of producing a human being this way? If for example the purpose was to produce a living child that could donate tissue for a transplant - then that would certainly enter the area of exploitation of a that child and raise concerns.

    From a Christian perspective then, the motive for creating a particular cloned individual would be a significant issue. If it could be construed as exploitation then there is a problem with than particular cloning event, but not with cloning in general. This concept then implies the need simply for careful checks and balances within the availability of this application.

    Respect of the rights, freedoms, and status of another person or individual. Again stretching of the biblical theme is required. However If I am accepting IVF (which I do) then the argument about status applies both to the egg, and as under exploitation only to the human produced.

    An egg is not a human being, under the right conditions it has the ability to become a human being but that potential is considerably less than an embryo, for it contains only half the recipe needed to create a human being. Its purpose however is to join with other genetic material and become a human being. Of the seven million (New Scientist page 38, 30 June 2001) potential eggs that form within foetal ovaries, only a handful become adult human beings. If we suppose that a few eggs from any one adult female become humans, then the purpose of her "collective of eggs" is fulfilled, are the rest spare for her do what she likes with?

    Clearly there need to be controls on the acquisition, storage and use of human eggs, particularly to prevent abuse and exploitation. That said I am not convinced that there is a case for banning cloning on the basis of respect.

    I do not find within the body of Christian values arguments that would support the banning of cloning. There are however clear arguments for
    1. adequate controls should be in place before cloning is permitted that ensure that the process is only used with the intention of producing healthy human beings.
    2. that care is used to ensure the human beings so conceived are not exploited.
    3. control similar to IVF on the acquisition, storage and disposal and use of eggs.