Israel Faces the Issue of Human Cloning: A Discussion of the Ethical and Social Implications

- Yael Weiler, Ph.D.
Jewish History Department
Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
Tel: +972-50-359696

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 8 (1998), 10-12.

This article is based on a lecture presented in Beer Sheva, Israel during a conference in Asian Bioethics: International Workshop, hosted in June, 1997 by the Jacobovits Center for Jewish Medical Ethics, Faculty of Health Science together with the Blechner Chair of Jewish Values, Ben-Gurion University and by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture.

The prospect of cloning, as with other new technologies, is sharpening the questions of human identity which concern people these days. What does it mean to belong ? What is love? What is morality ?

The cloning (1) of human beings would be carried out by in-vitro fertilization using (3, 2) the genetic coding of any human cell. Cloning humans has been described by Israeli judicial, Jewish law and ethics publications (4-6) as an impending technology which must be prepared for in ethical, legal and social terms.

I have elected to present three aspects pertaining to human cloning from the human point of view. All these aspects are related to the concept of nihilization, a term I developed elsewhere (7). The nihilization of parenthood means the removal and eradication of elements relating to the traditional, recognized ontological or epistemological essences of human parenthood, apparently as a result of what seems to be the expansion and development of medical-scientific technology and knowledge. The three aspects I refer to are:

1. Non-gametic (equivalent to non-sexual) reproduction. In the case of cloning, male human sperm is not necessary to create a normal fetus. Instead, a human ovum or ovum capsule is required together with the genetic coding of a male or female human cell, and a uterus to contain the fetus.

2. Unconditional fertility. With cloning, human reproductive tissue is not required for birth to take place, a single human cell is sufficient. It must be remembered that the potentiality of a fetus developing from a 'regular' cell is built up though latent characteristics. Cloning will enable pregnancy and birth in the absence of either sperm or ovum, and will allow the fetus's gender to be controlled.

3. Immortality (genetic). Cloning would allow the genetic coding of any individual to be utilized thus enabling the ongoing existence of that human genetic form itself. (9-8).

In terms of the offspring, the following novel implications need to be considered and examined:

1. A single parent (genetically) of the offspring which is at the same time a genetic sibling. This issue parallels the non-zygotic fertilization described above.

2. Multiple twinship. Cloning a number of brothers or sisters from the same cell is similar to the case of twins only more extreme due to the intervention occurring in the process of creating this particular "twinship" (10, 11, 12). If we regard human clones as siblings in every sense, should we forbid them sexual relations? Will it be necessary therefore to maintain a strict register of all clones?

3. The psychological and social identity of cloned offspring will not be like that of children born without cloning.

These points should be examined in the general context of several parallel developments. One involves developing an incubator to support younger and younger fetuses which would in the foreseeable future, result in an artificial uterus to replace that of the human genetic parent or surrogate mother (13). If an artificial uterus is used in the human cloning process, then the cloned individual will have a single biological parent, i.e. the genetic donor? A possible legal solution to genetic single parenthood (where an artificial uterus is used) would therefore be for the state to declare the owner of the artificial uterus the second parent in several matters (14-17).

The second development involves developing genetic engineering techniques which would allow human beings to be designed and healed. This would offer individuals planning a cloned parenthood to chose to produce an enhanced fetus over a mere duplicate of themselves or someone else (18).

The third development: new human "requirements" will accelerate the use of cloning. For example: the development of human space colonies; or cloning for the purpose of maintaining an organ pool for transplantation purposes. As we know, for various reasons the latter need is becoming increasingly pressing (19-26).

In my opinion, in future we may expect the application and legal acceptance of human cloning to become an accepted part of human society. This acceptance, even if only in the case of rare exceptions, could serve to further strengthen the power of the state as we have seen happen with other technological innovations (27). One of the pro human cloning opinions seeks to differentiate between private medical technology and social medical technology. In my opinion, this distinction is the equivalent of keeping one eye shut. According to this view, human cloning is permissible if carried out only to solve individual problems, and would be forbidden if the demand rose to double figures (28), as already accepted for the use of donor insemination.

In terms of human thought, it seems to me that Plato, for example, not unlike twentieth century despots, was happy to contemplate the possibility of utilizing human cloning to achieve the "ideal state". Indeed, human cloning is strikingly similar to the "Children of the Earth" myth cited by Plato in his essay "The Statesman" (29); or the notion of the uniform and uni-role citizen described in his essay "Politea" and to the idea of enhancing offspring in the "Ideal State". In other words, human cloning is an idea which has come naturally to the human mind for thousands of years, and whose achievement has been sought by psychological, social and physiological means for many years.

The prospect of using a single human model to clone hundreds or even thousands of individuals, coupled with the fact that a clone would have only one parent to start with, is a frightening thought for many people. Why is this? Perhaps because it threatens the end of human variety with all its differences and "otherness". Perhaps because the vast spectrum of different human features is essential to the spiritual, psychological and physical well-being of mankind. However, before we solve the problem of our own identity, before we successfully face ourselves, we face the prospect of confronting our duplicate, not as a mirror image, but as a real being.

Most of the people with whom I have discussed this subject in Israel thought that it is impossible to stop the process and cloning will be a reality. Therefore, I think, it is our responsibility to pay extremely careful attention to developments in our society.

In conclusion, I think that the values of belonging, morality and love will not disappear with the emergence of new technologies like cloning, but instead, they will need to be applied in "new" and different ways. I welcome readers' comments.

1. Yosef Hirschberg, Lexicon of terms in genetic engineering, The Biosphere, Journal of the Ministry for the Environment, March-April 1994, 23, 7-6, pp. 2-6.
2. Abie Levine, Anat Safran, In-vitro fertilization - 1995, Assia, articles, abstracts and reviews of medical Jewish Law, published by Falk Institute for Medical Research based on Jewish Law, Sharei Zedek Hospital, (henceforth Assia) December 1994; 55: pp. 5-41.
3. Yakov Viner, The halachic status of a fertilized ova in the body and in-vitro: halachic implications of artificial fertilization and test tube babies, The Physician, Journal of the Israel Medical Association, 15.3.95, Vol. 128, Issue 6: pp. 388-390.
4. Moshe Drori, Human Cloning: Halachic and Legal Implications, Assia, Feb. 1979; Vol. 6, 3 (23): pp. 17-29.
5. Pinchas Shipman, Family Law in Israel, Harry Sakker Institute for Comparative Legislation and Justice, the Faculty of Law, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1989; Vol II, p. 127, see comment No. 92.
6. David Hed, Ethics and Medicine, Israel Ministry of Defense, Tel Aviv, 1990: p. 63.
7. Yael Weiler, Surrogate motherhood and changes in perception of parenthood - philosophical insights, Assia, November 1996); 57-58: pp. 141-204. (in Hebrew).
8. Zvi Yanai, On sheep and Men, Ha'aretz newspaper, 28 February, 1997, p. B1.
9. See similar: Masahiro Morioka, Some ethical issues of cloning, EJAIB 7 (1997), 67-68.
10. Avraham Steinberg, Twins: Medical and Jewish Legal Aspects, Assia, 1078: pp. 19-25.
11. Shmuel Kotak, Twins in Jewish Sources and in History, ibid, pp. 26-31.
12. Zippora Roman, Twins with a year between them, Woman Magazine, 19.2.96, Issue 2549: pp. 38-39.
13. Special Times service for "Yediot Ahronot" newspaper, In the pipeline: An artificial womb will allow a baby to grow outside the mother's body. "Yediot Ahronot", 12.8.1996: p. 3.
14. Yehoshua Ben-Meir, In-vitro fertilization - status of the new born relative to the surrogate mother and the biological mother, Assia, 41, May 1986; p. 25.
15. As above, legal parenthood and genetic parenthood in the light of Jewish Law, Assia, December 1989; 47-48: pp. 80-88.
16. Meir Shamgar, Issues in fertilization and birth. The Advocate, 1991; 39, a: p. 21.
17. Mordechai Halperin, The definition of parenthood and the right to search for biological roots, Medicine and Justice, Association for Medicine and Justice in Israel, April 1995; No. 12: p. 29.
18. Zippora Roman, Test tube discrimination, Woman Magazine, 29.1.96; No. 2546: pp. 50-53.
19. Moshe Halevi Steinberg, "Human corpse skin `bank' in the light of Jewish Law, Assia, June 1981; 29-30: pp. 43-44.
20. Mordechai Halperin, Transplant organs from a live donor - Jewish legal implications, Assia, January 1989); 45-46: pp. 34-61.
21. Ibid, Donation of genetic material for fertility treatment: Medical and Jewish Legal implications, 1992; 33: p. 100.
22. Ruth Weiss-Zuker, The unbearable dependency of medicine - ethic dilemmas in organ transplantation, Medicine and Justice, Association for Medicine and Justice in Israel, December 1993; No. 9: p. 13-15.
23. Yakov Viner, Two aspects of physical self-damage: Organ donation for financial gain and cosmetic surgery, The Physician, Journal of the Israel Medical Association, August 1994; Vol. 127, books 3-4: pp. 129-132.
24. Ofer Gofrit, Ahmed Id, Michael Friedlander, Devora Rubinger, Haim Brautber, Eitan Shiloni, Avraham Rifkind, Pithia Reisman, Aryeh Dorset, Yakov Berlizki, Live donor kidney transplant: Attempt by the Hadassa Medical Center, Ein Karem over the past twenty years, The Physician, Journal of the Israel Medical Association, March 1995; Vol.128, book 4: pp. 201-204.
25. Dvora Kamert-Lang, Human duplication, Galileo, Journal of Science and Thought, May-June 1997; No. 22: pp. 27-30.
26. Ran Resnik, Fatal Wait, Ha'aretz newspaper, July 11, 1997; p. 3b.
27. Nurit Arad, The big question: Who will be authorized to use these discoveries, Yediot Ahronot newspaper, 10.3.96, p. 13.
28. Zvi Yanai, Supreme planner or neighborhood electrician?, Ha'aretz newspaper, June 6, 1997; p. 7b.
29. Plato, The works of Plato.
Go back to EJAIB 8(1) January 1998
See also:
Human Cloning - The Global Response - A.K. Tharien
Cloning and the New Ethic: Commentary on Yael Weiler - Frank J. Leavitt
Human Cloning: Commentary on Tharien, Weiler, & Leavitt - Masahiro Morioka

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