Q. Does Jewish law allow cloning?
A. The relentless advance of scientific development frightens us. We cannot stop it, but will it one day turn on us like a monster? Cloning human beings is the supreme example. It is so close that a Chicago scientist is determined to clone a child within months, and people all over the world are worried.
The problems are theological, halachic and moral. All are intertwined, but for the purpose of analysis let us attempt to separate them.
The theological issue is whether cloning is playing God and usurping Divine prerogatives. The Talmud (Ta’anit 2a) says there are three keys - including the key of childbirth – which God retains for Himself. Yet other passages report that Rav Chanina and Rav Hoshaya used some mystical method to fashion a calf, and Rava manufactured human life which only lacked the ability to speak. Medieval mystics attempted to create a golem, and of course later centuries saw the famous Golem of Prague.
These activities, however, are not the same as cloning, which is based on pre-existent human genetic material. Cloning is not humans playing God but using God-given material, albeit not through normal methods of procreation. Lord Jakobovits says that whilst he has grave reservations about human cloning, the problem is not that we are playing God or interfering with Divine providence, since every medical intervention represents such interference, and the physician is regarded as doing God’s work. For example, Judaism recognises artificial insemination (AIH, not AID) and surrogate motherhood as means of overcoming infertility, and does not deem them as interfering with Divine providence.
The halachic issues centre on the identity of the clone. Is he/she fully human? The answer is yes; the cloned person has the human dignity and rights of every other human being. But who is the clone? Who is the father? Who is the mother? Rabbi Michael J Broyde of the Beth Din of America (“Cloning People and Jewish Law: A Preliminary Analysis”) sees the relationship of a male clonor and his clone as that of father and child, and deems the gestational mother as the mother. If the clonor is a woman, the author thinks the “real” mother is the gestational mother, but there are other views including one that suggests that both can be the mother. Hence the clonee must avoid any sexual relationship with any of the family of either the genetic donor or the gestational mother.
There is also the question of the Jewish status of the clonee. If either “mother” is non-Jewish, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach regards the child’s Jewish status as in doubt and requires the child to have a conversion. There is a question as to whether a dead man can legally father a child and who owns the genetic material of the dead person. Presumably, says Rabbi Broyde, those who hold that a dead man cannot have a paternal relationship or fulfil the mitzvah of procreation, would rule that one whose cells are cloned after death is not the father according to Jewish law, but others disagree.
The moral aspect of cloning is significant, even frightening. Will cloning become a monster we cannot control? Is there a risk of “the development of cloned warriors or prostitutes by some megalomaniac’s totalitarian regime a legion of parentless, quasisynthetic beings trained to serve the purposes of the state or its master” (Robert Silverberg)? Will people put in their orders blue-eyed, not brown-eyed children; girls, not boys; athletes, not academics? Can things go wrong and terrible deformities result? Will cloning render obsolete the right to be conceived, born and nurtured within marriage and with identifiable natural parents? These questions cry out for serious attention.
Judaism does not say that cloning is prohibited in itself, but it “advises one to pause before one permits that which can lead down a variety of slippery slopes” (Broyde). If the process is basically limited to the treatment of infertility, it will receive the green light; but society will have to ensure that the more frightening options are decisively rejected.