Monday, September 26, 2011

Jewish law in the era of bio-engineering

Mary Loftus writes in the Huffington Post:

Cats with bits of luminescent jellyfish DNA. Sheep-goat hybrids, "geep," with furry legs and floppy ears. Human stem cells inserted into the brains of newborn mice. Embryonic screening that allows parents to choose to implant an embryo without the breast cancer gene. Human-human chimeras that allow gay couples to have children that belong, biologically, to both of them.

To paraphrase Dickens, these are not things that will happen in time, these are things that are happening.

Speaking from a Jewish law perspective about the ethics of reproductive technologies, Rabbi Michael Broyde, a law professor at Emory University and a member of the Beth Din of America, the largest Jewish law court in the country, is just getting warmed up in his delivery of the Decalogue Lecture for Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion Sept. 13.

He's enjoying the reaction this bioethically edgy information, complete with slides of an adorable glowing kitten and a geep, is getting from his audience.

Broyde has covered artificial insemination: "No adultery is associated with AI. The dominant Jewish law view doesn't look at misplaced paternity, absent sexual conduct, as a moral or religious wrong... It's even discussed in the Talmud."

And cloning: "When people think of cloning, they think of Star Wars, or The Boys from Brazil. They are opposed to cloning because they think it will allow creation of armies or will be used in some way that's dehumanizing. But cloning could be a form of assisted reproduction for profoundly infertile people."

Broyde moves on to reproductive xenotransplants -- the placing of a fertilized embryo of one species into the uterus of another species.

"Like human-animal chimeras, when cells of a human are mixed with cells of another mammal, basic ideas of human identity come into play," Broyde says.

"Of course, one definition of humanity is, that which comes from a human mother is human," he adds. "Yet, if you put a human fetus in a gorilla and it gives birth to a human being who, six years later, is playing chess or reading or engaging in other human activity, there's no doubt at all that Jewish thought would label that a human being even if the mother is not."

Broyde says these frightful, fascinating visions are no reason to halt the advance of assisted reproduction, no matter how rapidly the biotech may be slip-sliding into areas that make us uncomfortable.

Read the whole article in the Huff Post.

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