The Cloning Debate in Judaism

Most Jewish ethicists approve of therapeutic cloning, but question the morality of reproductive cloning.

Print this page Print this page

Britain adopted guidelines years ago that allow for therapeutic cloning.

On July 31, 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban all human cloning, both reproductive and therapeutic. Some Jewish groups, however, worry that a complete ban could end up being more harmful than a carefully structured one. Important advances in medical research might be lost because of a legislative ban, said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“We don’t want to paint with too broad a brush,” he said.

In a journal published in 2000 by Yeshiva University, a number of ethicists and thinkers weighed in on cloning.

Reactions in the journal, part of the university’s “Torah U’Madda Project,” which explores the interaction of Torah and secular studies and the challenges posed to the community, ran the gamut.

“Cloning does not involve the union of two individuals; it is therefore not an act of creation but rather one of duplication, and as such is completely at odds with any Jewish understanding of conception,” wrote Dr. Eitan Fiorino, a pharmaceutical industry analyst.

But Rabbi Michael Broyde, a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta, believes that cloning can be proper—if done with appropriate supervision. Broyde bolsters his argument with the scenario of a sick person who could be cloned to insure a match in a bone marrow transplant.

“Jewish tradition might regard this procedure as involving two good deeds: having a child and saving a life,” he wrote.

Many recommended more discussion and a cautious approach.

The administration is continuing its conservative approach to genetic research, and President Bush reiterated his strong opposition to cloning.

“We recoil at the idea of growing human beings for spare body parts or creating life for our convenience,” Bush has said.

The president named Dr. Leon Kass, a biomedical ethicist from the University of Chicago, to chair a presidential council on bioethics and biomedical innovation. An outspoken critic of human cloning, Kass believes that cloning constitutes unethical experimentation and threatens identity and individuality. Babies will be manufactured, and allowing such technology to go forward would bring about a perversion of parenthood, Kass believes.

“We sense that cloning represents a profound defilement of our given nature as procreative beings, and of the social relations built on this natural ground,” he wrote in The New Republic.

Kass also said a ban only on reproductive cloning would be unenforceable.

Zoloth says the talmudic tract of Sanhedrin may offer potential guidance for cloning technology. The rabbis determine that forbidden knowledge might be permissible—if it is used only for teaching, Zoloth said. Perhaps, she said, that means medical research of cloning is acceptable, but actual cloning of humans is not.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Sharon Samber

Sharon Samber covers the White House and Congress in JTA's Washington Bureau, writing about domestic policy issues. Before joining JTA in 1999, she covered criminal justice, substance abuse and other issues in Washington, and worked as a freelance journalist for newspapers and magazines in Pittsburgh.