For the week ending 8 February 2003 / 6 Adar I 5763

Cloning #1

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Many readers in many places

Dear Rabbi,

What is the Jewish perspective on cloning people?

Dear Readers,

Before discussing the Jewish perspective, I’d like to briefly explain what cloning is and how it is done. Cloning is the reproduction of an organism whereby all the genes of the clone are identical to the original organism, unlike normal male/female reproduction where the genes are a fusion of both parents. Cloning is not necessarily unnatural — bacteria, algae and some yeasts, as well as dandelions and aspen trees reproduce by cloning. In fact, human identical twins originate from the division of a single fertilized egg are genetically identical and are another example of cloning in nature.

A recent breakthrough in the area of artificial or induced cloning occurred in 1996 with the introduction of “Dolly”, the first animal cloned from an adult mammal. A skin cell from one sheep, containing a nucleus with a full set of genes, was fused with an unfertilized egg of another sheep whose nucleus was removed (somewhat like a donut). The result, an egg from sheep #2 with the genes entirely from sheep #1, began dividing and was placed in sheep #3. The embryo developed normally, and Dolly, an exact replica of sheep #1 was “born”. Amazing! (Who says counting sheep makes one sleep?)

The fact that Dolly, a large mammal, was cloned from a fully-grown adult animal raises probing and interesting ethical and legal questions from a Jewish perspective about the prospect of cloning. Is it right to play G-d? Does a clone have a soul? Is my clone me, my twin or my child? [The latter question has halachic ramifications regarding the laws of inheritance,levirate marriage (yibum) and more.]

Regarding the question of whether man has the right to play G-d, as in many instances of genetic engineering, some claim that it is wrong to play G-d. The Jewish perspective, however, is that since man was created in the image of G-d regarding intelligence, morality and free will, he is intended to be G-d’s partner in creation. To that end, G-d intentionally left the world incomplete in order to involve man in its betterment and refinement. Therefore sickness, poverty and other suffering need not be accepted passively. On the contrary, it is G-d’s will that man intervene to improve the world.

From the Jewish perspective then, not only is it not wrong to play G-d, but we are actually supposed to play G-d to the extent that doing so will benefit and improve the world and humanity. Given man’s license as partner with G-d to create and innovate, if and when human cloning occurs, the highest Rabbinical authorities will have to examine the benefits and detriments of cloning to determine whether it would be acceptable ethically and according to Jewish Law.

Next installment: Does a clone have a soul? (Until then, all “Copy-rights” reserved for Ask the Rabbi.)

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