The Ethics of Cloning: Society Response on Ask the Rabbi
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The Ethics of Cloning

My experience is that scientific breakthroughs (e.g. man on the moon, invitro fertilization, etc.) are greeted by the general public with accolades and enthusiasm. The idea of human cloning, meanwhile, has been typically received with disdain and trepidation. Why?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

People perceive cloning as an affront to their humanity and sense of individuality. Beyond this, there is great potential for abuse.

We could imagine certain scenarios where cloning could help save a human life. For example, let's say you only have one kidney, and then discover that you are the only exact-match donor for your brother, who will die if he doesn't get a new kidney. You could clone yourself, and then use one of the new kidneys to save your brother's life.

On the other hand, the potential for abuse is enormous. The most frightening idea is "growing" humans in cages, in order to "harvest" their bodies for spare parts. It is not far-fetched to imagine an unscrupulous multi-millionaire cloning himself in this manner – in case he should ever need a kidney, heart, eye, bone marrow, etc.

Another potential abuse is creating a class of mindless worker-clones. If the goal of cloning is to mold a being who mindlessly follows prescribed dictates, this is antithetical to Judaism. Our tradition encourages independent thought. In fact, the goal of a Jewish parent, teacher or rabbi is to create independence. That is why the Talmud states that parents are responsible for teaching their children how to read and write, learn Torah (gain wisdom for living), earn a livelihood, etc.

So... is cloning good or bad? Judaism says there is nothing in the world that is INHERENTLY good or evil; there is only the POTENTIAL for good and evil. Even something we typically associate as "bad" – for example, outrage – can be used for good – outrage against injustice. Similarly, even something we typically associate as "good" – for example, giving – can be used for bad – over-giving, or smothering. Talent, education and wisdom only have POTENTIAL.

Surveys show that the majority of people oppose human cloning because of the great likelihood of abuse. Apparently, people perceive society as essentially irresponsible and untrustworthy. Nuclear power, with all its potential positive uses, remains a threat to all humanity. Like Frankenstein, it is created by human intelligence, but at the same time may have a dangerous tendency to outgrow human control and become destructive. Rabbi Moshe Tendler says: "The real problem is that whenever man has shown mastery over man, it has always meant the enslavement of man."

It is our prayer that the world will use its powers only for purposes which are good, holy, and truly "human."

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