Jewish Bioethics 101
Jewish authorities encourage genetic testing so that individuals can determine whether they carry genes for any characteristically Jewish genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs. Some rabbinic authorities endorse testing on fetuses as well and allow abortions for fetuses that test positive for terminal diseases. Genetic engineering--including cloning--for therapeutic purposes is endorsed by most Jewish authorities. However, many object to the potential use of cloning for reproductive purposes.
According to the Talmud, a goses, a dying person, is considered no different than any other human being. Not only does the Talmud consider one who kills a goses to be a murderer, it prohibits any actions that may speed up her death. Thus, traditionally, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are prohibited by Jewish law. Nevertheless, most Jewish authorities object to any actions that impede the death of a sufferer. Additionally, modern authorities like Reform rabbi Peter Knobel support the termination of life in situations of extreme suffering, when a person’s tzelem elohim, or divine image, is compromised. Conservative rabbi Elliot Dorff has also questioned the relevance of the goses category, and in doing so comes to more liberal conclusions about end-of-life issues.
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