Re: Cloning and Halacha

Akiva Miller (
Mon, 17 Mar 1997 14:43:14 -0500

In Torah Forum 3:31, Ruth Zerwitz wrote about cloning, "I found the idea
to be frankly terrifying. What does the Torah say about it? What are
other people's thoughts on this?"

In the popular press, I have found many people to express similar
thoughts. But I can't figure out what they are so afraid of. My guess is
that people are under the *mistaken* impression that cloning is some
kind of magical "duplication ray" which can create a second copy of a
person, having the same appearance and memory as the original. But this
is totally incorrect.

Cloning is a new kind of artificial insemination, where the fertilized
egg has a gene set which is identical to that of a person (which I call
the "parent") rather than a mixture of genes from two parents. That egg
must be implanted in a woman's womb, who will nurture that egg until
birth. The baby must then grow up and mature like any other person. If
his personality ends up being similar to the person he is cloned from,
it will be because of environmental and genetic factors, not because he
is a "duplicate" of the original.

I admit that the woman in whom the fertilized egg is placed is not
necessarily the person from whom this baby is cloned. But that is a
separate issue, and has already been dealt with, in both the popular
press and in medical ethics literature, under the subject "surrogate
motherhood". It is also possible that the day may someday come when a
cloned egg does *not* need to be nurtured in a human womb. But if so,
such technology would apply to non-cloned eggs as well. For more
information on these subjects, research the topics "artificial
insemination" and "in vitro fertilization".

Clones might also be made as a source of human body parts for
transplant. There was a case a few years ago, where a couple had a
daughter who needed a bone marrow transplant. The doctors suggested that
if they had another child, that sibling might be compatible. So they
reversed a previous decision to have no more children, and went ahead
and had another baby for the expressed purpose of being a potential
marrow donor. It seems to me that whatever ethical problems exist in
growing clones for parts would have precedents set in this case.

I am NOT trying to say that there are no new ethical challenges in
cloning. My only point is to isolate the issues into their component
parts so that they may be discussed more intelligently. At this point,
the only new issues I see are the idea of a single biological parent,
and psychological problems if the child is made to feel like a mere copy
of an original. For the first, source material may be taken from
surrogate motherhood, where one can argue that the child has *three*
biological parents. For the second, studies of twins may be helpful.

P.S. Beyond the medical ethics issue of whether or not human cloning is
proper, there are additional Halachic considerations after the fact, if
a person has already been cloned. For example, how parent/child or
sibling relationships work? Is the clone of a kohen also a kohen, or
not? But I suspect that the answers here will be similar to answers
which have already been developed for artificial insemination cases.

For the record, I am not a rabbi nor am I a physician nor biologist of
any kind. I'm just an ordinary guy who is fascinated by
science(-fiction) and medical ethics. Whenever I am learning Gemara, and
it gives what *seems* to be a really crazy one-in-a-million kind of case
to demonstrate a fine point, and the temptation is to exclaim, "Why
debate this? It will never happen!", I remind myself of the gemara
(somewhere, I can't remember) about a single woman who got pregnant when
she went to a mikvah, from semen from a man who had used it previously.
For centuries students must have wondered if such a thing is possible,
and now that case has become a main source for today's questions.

Akiva Miller