After months of deliberation, a group of Orthodox scientists and Jewish law experts this week announced its endorsement of cloning cells for therapeutic purposes, but opposed cell cloning for reproductive purposes.
The ruling, by a team of Orthodox experts assembled by the nation’s two largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella groups — the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America — appears to put all three major Jewish denominations in agreement on the complicated issue of cloning research.
And it puts the now-unified Jewish position at odds with Roman Catholic and Christian views, which reject cell cloning as a violation of the sanctity of human life.
In a statement released Tuesday the Orthodox team said: “If cloning technology research advances our ability to heal humans with greater success, it ought to be pursued since it does not require or encourage the destruction of life in the process.”
The statement explained that Jewish tradition states that “an embryo in vitro does not enjoy the full status of human-hood and its attendant protections.”
Nevertheless, the Orthodox team opposed reproductive cloning.
“[T]his research must be conducted under strict guidelines and with strict limitations to ensure that the research is indeed serving therapeutic purposes,” it said.
The 13-member “Working Group on Cloning Research, Jewish Law and Public Policy included: RCA president Rabbi Hershel Billet; OU president Harvey Blitz; OU public policy director Nathan Diament; RCA executive vice president Rabbi Steven Dworken; Rabbi Tzvi Flaum of Congregation Knesseth Israel of New York; Dr. Feige Kaplan, professor of genetics and pediatrics, McGill University; Dr. John Loike, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University; Rabbi Edward Reichman, M.D., asst. professor, Yeshiva University Einstein College of Medicine ; Richard Stone, Chairman, of OU’s Public Policy, and Professor of Law, Columbia University; Dr. David Shatz, professor of philosophy, Columbia and Yeshiva Universities; Rabbi Moshe Tendler, M.D., professor of Talmud and bioethics, Yeshiva University; Dr. Ethan Fiorino of Citigroup; and OU executive vice president Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb.
Rabbi Tendler said he was satisfied with the statement.
He said it did not rule out future reconsideration of reproductive cloning for infertile couples, but that is probably 20 years away.
“It is really the opinion of anybody who is working in the field and is up to date, that there is no meshugenah who wants to clone a human being — there is no money in it and it can’t be done,” Rabbi Tendler said.
He said that the group strongly endorses what he labels “organ repair” — which calls for creating a stem cell that can morph into heart or liver or kidney to repair those organs.
“This is therapeutic organ repair — that’s the goal. It’s absolutely a travesty of justice in America that the federal government should not support therapeutic cloning,” he said, referring to opposition by the Bush administration and congressional attempts to ban such research, based on Christian objections.
Diament said the purpose of the statement “is to express the view of Orthodox Judaism on this complex moral challenge currently confronting our society. We believe it is important for Americans to understand that there is a religiously informed view that believes this potentially lifesaving research should proceed.”
The statement explained that “the Torah commands us to treat and cure the ill and to defeat disease wherever possible; to do this is to be the Creator’s partner in safeguarding the created. The traditional Jewish perspective thus emphasizes that maximizing the potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life.”
But the group also called for strong protections.
“We advocate that a fully funded and empowered oversight body comprised of scientists and ethicists be created to monitor this research. The oversight process should pay special attention to ensuring that the embryos used in this research are not brought to a point which constitutes human-hood.”