For the week ending 22 February 2003 / 20 Adar I 5763

Cloning #3

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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Is my clone me, my twin or my child?

A clone is genetically identical to the gene donor, unlike normal male/female reproduction where the genes are a fusion of both parents. Therefore my clone, while sharing my genes (we wear the same size), is really the result of the fusion of my parents’ genes. In this way my clone cannot be considered me; rather he would be more like my identical twin, just as in nature identical twins share the same genetic material. However, since my clone was created from my genes, from my body, and later gestated and birthed by my wife, perhaps he is to be considered my child.

This question of whether my clone is my twin or my child has halachic ramifications regarding inheritance. If my clone is my twin, he will not inherit together with my other children, his "siblings". However, if he is my son he will inherit. This will also apply to the mitzvah of yibum. There is a mitzvah that when one’s brother dies without children he marries the widow (if they both agree) in order to perpetuate his brother’s line, or do the mitzvah of chalitza and doesn’t marry her (which is what is done today). If his clone is a twin, the clone will have to perform yibum or chalitza (after waiting for his bar mitzvah!). If the clone is a son, he exempts his mother from the mitzvah altogether, even if his father had other brothers, since his father had a child.

This also raises the question of who is the clone’s mother. For example, in a case where a woman is cloned, having her genes inserted in another woman’s egg which is then gestated and birthed by a third woman (similar to the case of "Dolly"), there are four possible mothers: woman #1, the mother of the cloned woman (who is the original source of the genes); woman #2, the gene donor; woman #3, the egg donor; and woman #4, the gestation donor.

Since Judaism follows matrilineal descent, the question of who is the clone’s mother will have bearing (sorry) on whether the clone is Jewish. Whether genetic or physical birth factors (or both) are what determine if the child is Jewish is a discussion for another forum, and please do not draw any conclusions from this article.

This week’s article concludes a three-part series. However, I think we have not heard the final word regarding cloning. In the meantime I’d like to share a thought-provoking and somewhat humorous email we received from a reader in reaction to the first article of this series, which addressed the question if it’s okay to "play G-d":

Dear Rabbi,

I mean no disrespect when I say that there is a potential problem with cloning man toward becoming self-sufficient and losing the very dependence he has cherished in the past with G-d. This story illustrates a problem in its infancy:

One day a group of scientists came before the Almighty and said that they had all the knowledge and ability to create man, and they said, "We no longer have any need for You since we have arrived in our own time to match anything You have done in the past concerning the making of a human. We can take your place because we have the ability to duplicate your power and knowledge." Scientifically they had the knowledge to clone a human so they were feeling pretty self-sufficient.

They went on to say that they would do this with their own test tubes and equipment to make humans perfect and the only thing left would be to take some dirt and commence with the exercise. The Almighty said, "Hold on a moment; get your own dirt."

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