CORVALLIS, Ore. - The recent announcement that scientists have cloned a sheep in Scotland, and monkeys in Portland, Ore., has raised numerous questions of ethics, morals and, not least of all, religion.
An Oregon State University ethics specialist has been asked by President Clinton's bioethics advisory committee to produce a report on the religious views of human cloning.
Courtney Campbell, an associate professor of philosophy, will submit the report to the commission by April 1. The commission will make recommendations on federal policy and research funding for human cloning to Clinton by June 1.
In his report, Campbell will examine arguments made by religious scholars and theologians about human cloning during the last 30 years, and analyze the positions that religious denominations have made about genetic engineering in general.
"There also is a need to speak to scholars who have not addressed medical ethics directly but whose views about creation of life, human nature, parenthood, sexuality and science provide a religious perspective on cloning," said Campbell, who is director of Oregon State University's Program for Ethics, Science and the Environment.
Campbell has been on the OSU faculty since 1990. Before coming to Corvallis, he was an associate for religious studies at The Hastings Center, where he also edited The Hastings Centers Report, a leading bioethical journal. He has a bachelor's degree from Yale University, and master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia - all in religious studies.
Campbell said the public's fascination with human cloning has taken on a sensationalistic, science fiction flavor since the news broke about "Dolly," the sheep in Scotland which apparently was the first mammal to be cloned.
"We draw on our science fictional past and conjure up the worst-case scenarios," Campbell said. "We think of Genesis to Frankenstein to Jurassic Park and the theme is that what's created turns back and bites its creator."
But there are other, more likely concerns about human cloning, he said.
Cloning has implications for the use of animals, for subtle shifts in attitudes toward human beings as organ factories, for profit motivations, and for reliance on technology to solve all our problems, Campbell said.
"There are serious implications for animals," he pointed out. "The recent clonings tend to treat animals as objects for the benefit of human welfare. That is a regressive tenet of science - to look at the world in terms of how it can benefit us."
Campbell said the drug company that paid for the sheep research offered a false motivation for their benevolence. Instead of serving humankind, profit was its primary motivation.
These are the kinds of problems that arise, he said, when public oversight is lacking.
"There are no limits to what a biotechnology company could do in something like sheep research," Campbell said. "If a university conducted this research there would be all kinds of federal guidelines and other precautions for things such as the comfort and care of the animals."
Some people have questioned why it would be ethically wrong to clone a human being. Campbell said such actions would, in large part, depend on their motivations.
"There is the possibility of creating 'consoling fictions' that lead us to value others for the wrong reason," he said. "The prime example that people are talking about is to make a clone of a dying child. The problem, of course, is that the clone couldn't be the same child as the one it's supposed to replace because of environmental reasons, from conception onward.
"So saying a clone would 'replace' a lost child is just symbolic fiction," he added. "It would also mean the clone would be valued not for its own sake, but for the memory of the lost child."
Campbell said society is embarking on a dangerous trend by seeking technical fixes for metaphysical problems. Claiming that cloning could cure cancer, hemophilia and aging, for example, is symptomatic of our quest for immortality.
"The pattern is to look to science for answers that are really in the realm of philosophy and theology," he pointed out. "We will lose our sense of awe and wonder at the mystery of life, which Einstein called the source of true science."
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Courtney Campbell, 541-737-6196