The Cloning Debate in Judaism

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

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The following is reprinted with permission from JTA—The Global News Service of the Jewish People. It was originally published on August 14, 2001.

In the Brave New World of cloning, most Jewish ethicists and organizations are staking out the middle ground. 

A general consensus appears to be emerging in the Jewish community that therapeutic cloning—using cloning technology for medical research—is acceptable, but reproductive cloning—using the technology to copy someone—is not.

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Reproductive cloning is unproven, risky and represents a “tragic misunderstanding” of human identity, according to Laurie Zoloth, director of the Jewish Studies Program at San Francisco State University and an associate professor of social ethics and Jewish philosophy. Advances in therapeutic cloning, which could lead to transfers of compatible tissue in transplants, would not necessarily lead to the dangerous practice of reproductive cloning, Zoloth said.

“Not all slopes are slippery,” she said.

Zoloth is serving as the principal investigator of a new grant to facilitate meetings over the next three years among Jewish scholars, ethicists and scientists to discuss the implications of advances in genetics. Reproductive cloning raises ethical, theological and moral concerns, as well fundamental questions such as “Who is considered the clone’s father and mother?” and “What happens to cloning experiments that fail?” Some take the view that cloning can be a commandment, for example, if it is used to help infertile couples. Others consider it immoral to make a genetic copy of someone.

Clones would be born from eggs stimulated to divide after their DNA was removed and replaced with DNA from other cells. Cells from an infertile father, for example, could be injected into an egg, which then would be implanted in the mother’s uterus to create a pregnancy. The resulting child would have the same physical characteristics as the father [but not the mother], and infertile parents would not have to rely on sperm donors. Yet many people have visceral, negative reactions to cloning, fearing that the practice lacks a basic humanity. Some believe that cloning would fly in the face of lessons derived from the Holocaust, when Nazi doctors experimented on humans in an effort to create a “master race.” Some rabbis are particularly troubled by the notion of a human made in one’s own image, rather than the image of God.

Britain’s chief rabbi called planned experiments to clone humans “a new low in playing roulette with human life.” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said human cloning is dangerous and irresponsible because of the threat it poses “to the integrity of children so born.”

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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.