The Cloning Debate:
By Randolfe H. Wicker
The conference had been announced on March 11,2002 by UAE officials who called for "a global dialogue on healthcare ethics, including human cloning."
UAE Health Ministry Under-secretary Dr. Abdul Rahim Jaafar declared that such a dialogue "would explore how to preserve 'our fundamental human values and adhere to our respective religious teaching in channeling new scierntific knowledge to benefit our fellow man'", according to a report from Gulf News, online edition, www.gulfnews.com
Jaafar declared that the UAE "hopes to work closely with the ministries of health in the GCC and the Arab League countries and in coordination with the East Mediterranean Region Office of the World Health Organization, the Islamic Organization for Medical Services and the International Association of Bioethics."
He suggested that the next Congress of Bioethics, to be held in 2004, consider the UAE as a possible venue for their event.
Sharing the stage with Dr. Antinori was Dr. Haris Silajdzic, a former Bosnian Prime Minister and Hisham Yousuf, a representative of the Cairo-based Arab League. The event was held at the Zayed Centre and was promoted "as part of the centre's role in the encouragement of scientific research."
Dr. Antinori's announcement in Abu Dhabi underscores a subtle continuing shift of the center of cloning research from the western World to Middle Eastern and Asian localities.
China has reportedly cloned many human embryos to use in therapeutic cloning and stem cell research.
Likewise, some commentators have noted that while Asian Muslims, Buddhists and Christians and some Asian governments oppose reproductive cloning, they are not hamstrung by the embryo centric debate which has paralyzed most research in the Western World with the exception of Great Britain.
Ten of the seventy stem cell lines approved for research in the United States come from India. Singapore has six stem cell lines and hopes to attract researchers who will create additional ones by fostering an open environment for research.
In recent weeks, a leading researcher from Great Britain, the head of PPL therapeutics which cloned Dolly, announced he was leaving that country, which has the most open attitude toward therapeutic cloning research in the Western World, to work in a less restrictive environment in Singapore for ES Cell Inc. which was better funded.
So, the great cultural war, which holds center stage in today's news, echoes through the debate about human cloning and human cloning technology.
One cannot help noticing that the UAE, in their handling of the conference on "The Future of Genetic Engineering and Cloning " seemed to be challenging the Western World with accusations that Western thought and ethics were fundamentalist, rigid and destructive to science, medicine and the pursuit of knowledge.
Likewise, Jewish Rabbis have been among the few voices speaking out for scientific freedom in the Western world and in Israel.
On February 12,1998, Rabbi Barry Freundel, from the Washington D.C. Georgetown Synagogue testified at hearing being held on legislation proposed to outlaw human cloning (Pub. Serial No. 105-70, pages 36-40):"I would urge you not to prohibit; I would urge you to regulate, and regulate carefully, in terms of appropriate uses of the technology, where it's doing some positive, and prohibit that which it does that is negative. But I don't think prohibiting is the way to go.
Rabbi Freundel argued that both technology and knowledge were essentially neutral. It was how they were used that was important.
"I want to focus on human cloning in particular," Rabbi Freundel explained. "It is hard for me to see that if you have someone who, for example, who was a holocaust, whose entire family was wiped out in the holocaust, and who himself was a victim of Nazi experiments, and was castrated, that we would say to such a person, you can't clone to reproduce. You can't continue your existence in that way. I would never say no, if they were asked to me as a religious question. I would hope that we don't legally prevent that as well."
Five months later, Gerald L Zelizer. A rabbi of Neve Shalom, a conservative congregation serving the Metuchen-Edison, N.J. area authored the first pro-cloning essay to appear in any major American publication.
In USA Today's "The Forum", in an article entitled "Religious leaders rush too quickly to ban cloning" he explored the various ethical arguments and concluded: "This dawning technology of cloning to alleviate human suffering should also be embraced by formal religion.
"It enables couples who previously turned to anonymous strangers for egg, sperm or embryo donations to have a genetic tie to their children and fulfill more directly the Biblical mandate at Eden, 'Be fruitful and multiply.'
"A scientist who is also a Jesuit priest, Kevin Fitzgerald, of Loyola Medical School, was the adviser to the authors of a bill to ban cloning. I disagree with my colleague. Carefully regulated cloning will assist, not undermine, the Almighty"
Indeed, once human stem cells had been isolated, Israel became a source of cells for researchers unwilling to sign away the rights to their discoveries using them, one of the onerous conditions attached to stem cell lines available in the United States.
The ethical divide between the Western world and those to the East continued to resonate in the cloning and embryo stem cell debate. In the "global picture" of the ethical debate surrounding cloning, the Jews actually shared the views of Islam more than they shared the views of Roman Catholics and fundamentalist Christians.
On July2, 1999 The New York Times ran an article entitled "Embryo Cell Research: A Clash of Values" by science editor Nicholas Wade which explored this very ethical divide.
"In the Jewish analysis of embryonic stem cell research, there is no problem in using spare embryos from fertility clinics, said rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, a philosophy professor at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles." Wade reported.
"Dr. Dorff, a Conservative rabbi, said the sperm and egg, and early embryos derived from them, 'have no legal status whatever in Jewish law when they are outside the womb, because they have no potential for becoming a human being.' Medically beneficial research with the embryos is therefore 'very much to be encouraged'
Embracing stem cell research, Dr. Dorff concluded: "The Jewish tradion has had a virtual love affair with medicine for 2,000 years because it has seen the physiciain as God's agent and partner in the ongoing act of healing."
Answering the often occurring charge of "playing God" that constantly emerges in the cloning debate, Georgetown's Rabbi Freundel had told legislators in February 1998, "Acting like God is not a negative from a Jewish perspective; it is in fact a positive. We are created in the image of God.
"There is within Talmusic literature, within Rabbinic literature, the statement, that if you do such and such, you become a partner in the work of creation. That is among the highest accolades that we have. It's a very positive thing to be."
Such a perspective lead some of Israel's leading religious leaders to embrace the efforts to clone a human being by Dr. Antinori and Dr. Zavos shortly after they announced their intention to do so in early 2001.
Cloning is a good thing, one news report quoted an aging rabbi as saying, and we hope that it happens first in Israel.
In her book The Clone Age legal scholar Lori Andrews describes going to Dubai to discuss cloning with several hundred male Muslim clerics. She opens the book with her description of going to the United Arab Emirates and finding a description:
"Political Parties: None
In the concluding chapter, Lori Andrews reports:
"In the Middle East, a woman can be sentenced to death for undergoing artificial insemination by donor. Yet by the time the meeting ended in Dubai, Muslim religious leaders and Middle Easter invitro doctors had come to an accord that it would be consistent with Islamic values to clone men-infertile married men---as long as it was used within the marriage relationship."
Politics make strange bedfellows indeed. In the United States, the environmental and feminist left climbs into bed with the fundamentalist religious right. In the Middle East, the Jews and Muslims find some small areas of agreement.