CORVALLIS, Ore. - Leaders of several religious traditions in the United States say they are uncomfortable about the idea of human cloning, but their reasons for discomfort vary significantly, according to a new report.
Some say that human cloning is an idea whose time has not yet come. Others say their community distrusts the science. A common fear is that economics, not morality, will drive the ethical behavior of society.
These viewpoints and others highlight a special 16-page report just released by Oregon State University's Program for Ethics, Science and the Environment. Presented as a series of short essays, the report is an edited version of a study on religious views and themes on cloning written for President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission.
Courtney Campbell, an associate professor of philosophy and director of the OSU program, was asked to write the study.
Campbell said his charge was to consider not only the views of Jewish and Christian faith traditions, but to try to represent the plurality of American religiosity, including African American, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Islamic and Native American understandings.
"This gives a voice to religious communities that are rarely if ever given a voice, especially when it comes to federal policy," Campbell said.
There was little consensus from the broad survey of religious leaders, though most felt that the federal government should maintain regulatory control over cloning research and technology - a proposal which it has just declined. "Religious communities are suspect about turning control of cloning over to private biotech companies with no federal oversight," Campbell said.
Beyond federal involvement, the perspectives and priorities of the religious traditions varied, the OSU professor pointed out.
"For African Americans, the big issue is, 'Can we trust the science?'" Campbell said. "Native Americans point out their strong emphasis on community over the individual in making decisions and they are concerned about the narcissistic tendencies in our society and how cloning could perpetuate them.
"And Hindu and Buddhist traditions say our priorities are askew," Campbell added. "Cloning is a purported technological fix. It doesn't address the deep-seated questions about the meaning of life."
Campbell said Islam is one religious tradition that has not rejected the concept of cloning. Scientific research and medical practice are ordained and blessed by the Koran, he said, but Islamic leaders make a sharp distinction between theoretical and applied science.
"The Islamic perspective, like the African American perspective, says that society is not really ready for that kind of research," Campbell said. "The laws and social ethics lag too far behind the science."
Campbell said the authors of the essays in the 16-page report are presenting their individual viewpoints, not any "official word." The broad cross-section of opinion should be invaluable to policy makers, however.
"Two concerns became evident through the process," Campbell said. "One, the idea of human cloning has been portrayed as a science versus religion debate, which it is not, with economics on the side of science.
"And second, religious views - though they cannot be used as the basis of public policy because of the First Amendment - need to be heard," he added. "The viewpoints of these individuals may come out of a religious tradition, but that shouldn't disqualify them from the democratic process."
Copies of the 16-page report are available by calling Campbell at OSU's Program for Ethics, Science and the Environment at 541-737-6196.
Excerpts from some of the short essays:
"Knowledge, in a Native American sense, is not equated with wisdom. Knowledge with the added awareness of its pragmatic implications comprises wisdom. The ability to clone human beings is certainly a bit of knowledge, but is it wise?"
-Viola Cordova, a Native American philosopher at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
"For aboriginal people of our planet who see themselves as dwindling and endangered species, cloning of the best of their race will be a blessing - a viable avenue for preserving and perpetuating their unique identities and individualities upon lands they revere as father and mother."
-Abraham Kahikina Akaka, pastor emeritus of Kawaiahao Church in Honolulu, Hawaii
"The Buddhist response to the possibility of cloning human beings, it seems to me, is not if, but when...Would we accord a cloned person the benefits enjoyed by those who are born naturally? I would hope so."
-Ronald Y. Nakasone, a Buddhist priest at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.
"Much has been made of cloning humans for medical purposes. This has ranged from making another copy to supply 'spare parts' in organ transplantation to creating embryonic cells from mature cells for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. Neither is a moral option. We cannot store living human beings in a 'organ bank' to make withdrawals as we will."
-Rev. Demetri Demopulos, geneticist and pastor, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Fitchburg, Mass.
"Ethnic Americans are extraordinarily suspicious and distrustful of any new scientific technologies. This is particularly true for, but not confined to, the African American community. The history of scientific abuse and medical neglect carries with it a legacy that is permanently imprinted on the collective consciousness of these groups."
-Marian Gray Secundy, professor and director of the Program in Clinical Ethics, Howard University Health Sciences Center.
"Most Hindu spiritual leaders are less concerned for the moral issues and casuistry surrounding human cloning than for the practical need. Why do this, they ask again and again. Will it help us to draw nearer to God if we have such bodies?...Will humankind's inner consciousness be enhanced? They think not."
-Acharya Palaniswami, editor of Hinduism Today
"The position of many Muslim scholars is not different than the one adopted by the Vatican. Many of these scholars have missed the point. Research and investigation are part of human nature and they must never be curbed... However, the moment this research becomes a commodity to be sold and traded like any other commodity, or used for political and cultural superiority, it is a violation of divine principles serving God and His creation."
-Maher Hathout, an adviser of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, based in Los Angeles, Calif.
"I believe there are two main questions to human cloning. 1) Whether to proceed with cloning technology? I maintain that with appropriate safeguards, we should exercise the capacity to go ahead, while raising questions about the 'upside to cloning' in terms of its scientific and human rationale. 2) More important is the question of the moral and legal status of a clone and on this the Jewish tradition would decisively say that a clone is a human being."
-Rabbi Barry Freundel, the Kesher Israel Congregation, Washington, D.C., and Georgetown University School of Law
"Roman Catholicism supports all true progress in conventional medicine. It is common in biomedical literature to distinguish 'negative' from 'positive' genetic engineering. 'Negative' genetic engineering 'cures' a defect or 'alleviates' a pathology. This is the tradition of western medicine and all progress in that tradition is welcome. However, 'positive' genetic engineering is the construction and-or manufacture of a higher or better type of human...This is not truly therapeutic; it is not genuine medicine; it is not human progress and is not welcome."
-John Cardinal O'Connor, head of the Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church of New York