Looking for a scenario that's chock full of ethical problems? Imagine this: Alexander Schwartz, a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, is severely ill and depressed and has asked his doctor to terminate his life. Schwartz's wife wants to genetically alter an embryo the couple implanted in a surrogate mother so that the child will have brown eyes and not suffer her husband's disease and depression. She also wants to clone her brilliant husband.
Panelists at a Jan. 13 discussion on Jewish medical ethics, hosted by the American Jewish Committee, wrestled with the multiple dilemmas presented by Schwartz's imaginary death.
Dr. Irving Lebovics, chief of staff of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's dental division, said that there was no support in halachic liturgy to justify active euthanasia, and the other panelists agreed.
But the legal interpretation of genetic engineering is more problematic. When viewed from an Orthodox perspective, cloning is "the single-most uncharted area of moral and ethical law," Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek Congregation said. Cloning may be legally permissible, but Tendler questioned its moral implications. "God made us human, with limitations. We have to disengage our emotions and desires and engage in the intellectual process of determining exactly what God wants from us."
Rabbi Levi Meier, the chaplain at Cedars-Sinai, maintained that genetic engineering to cure an illness is "100 percent OK and mandated" by halachic law. But the law prohibits genetic alteration to give a baby brown eyes or for other "non-health" reasons. And cloning an individual, argued Levi Meier, defies the Torah's requirement that a child be born with a mother, father and the presence of God. -- Rebecca Kuzins, Contributing Writer
Is Cloning Good?
Many of the medical profession's greatest Jewish minds are scheduled to convene at the 10th annual International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics, which will take place at the Park Plaza Hotel, a stone's throw from San Francisco International Airport.
Hosted by the Institute for Jewish Medical Ethics of the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco Physicians, the Presidents' Day Weekend event, which will run from Friday, Feb. 12 - Monday, Feb. 15, will be jointly sponsored by the Stanford University School of Medicine and Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, in association with National Council of Young Israel. The weekend symposium will honor Lord Immanuel Jakobovits -- the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth of Nations who is known in the Jewish medical community as "the father of modern Jewish medical ethics." Among the conference lecturers scheduled to appear: 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Roald Hoffman; Harvard Medical School Prof. Carol Nadelson; and AIPAC President Lionel A. Kaplan.
For further information, call (800) 258-4427, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or access the Institute's web page at http://www.ijme.org. -- Michael Aushenker, Community Editor