Module 5: (Emma) Public Policy and the Possibilities for Being Human

The idea of a cloned me and a cloned you, is one that revels in the unrealistic CG of Sci-fi and the likes. But in the wake of modern technology and research, cloning has moved from a fictitious idea, to a reality that has changed the way medical and scientific communities answer questions. Thus is the rise of bioethics, an infant in the world of research, but a field that is quickly defining itself as a necessary wager of right and wrong. If one were to ask the laymen and women in a “typical” American community their views on cloning, one may get a response that entails a mixture of disbelief and disgust. As a matter of fact, in the global court of public opinion, the idea of cloning deems one guilty by mere thought. However, Jewish Law opposes such a verdict. Delving into the religious codes and derived laws that govern the Jewish population of Israel Breiowitz and Prainsack challenge commonly held beliefs about cloning, much of which is put forth by western ideology such as the U.S.’s President’s Council on Bioethics.

Breiowitz derives his bioethical view from a Jewish standpoint. He believes that people should not be so quick to think of cloning as morally repugnant. Although I am personally not Jewish, I found his religious/philosophical argument very compelling. Much of the Catholic arguments against cloning and reproductive technologies is a product of their interpretation of Genesis. From it, they believe that God made man exactly how He wanted man to be, and thus we should not interfere with His creations. They also argue against reproductive technology with the idea that man is inherently “playing God”, such technologies are disrespectful to human life, and that this is an abandonment of the triangular love involved in procreation. So according to  Catholic and many denominations of Christianity’s biblical interpretations, man should not disrupt the natural order and should allow God to deliver us from our problems. Here is the Jewish rebuttal: the Talmud Baba Kama interprets a verse from Exodus as permission for physicians to practice and engage in healing, and believes that we should not take a back seat to curing our ailments nor wait for the Lord to literally and physically heal us. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik goes on to speak of this dichotomy between Adam 1 and Adam 2 in chapters 1 and 2, respectively, in the book of Genesis. Adam 1 is “majestic”, as he is created in the image of God. Rabbi Soloveitchik interprets this as permission for man to be active in effecting change on this world, being a “collaborator” with God, using the autonomy and control over the world that was bestowed upon Adam in Genesis 1. This is in direct conflict with the portrayal of Adam in Genesis chapter 2. In chapter 2 Adam is to accept a being greater than he and submit to a higher power, he is told to be content with not being the bearer of all knowledge, and is overall a less “majestic” Adam than he is said to be in chapter 1. According to Jewish belief this is where we see the paradox that the Lord wants us to be governed by. He wants man to be an active contributor to the world but also remain a humble recipient of a being greater and mightier than he.

In 2001, after an executive order by President Bush, the President’s Council on Bioethics was created in order to advise and provide a voice for ethical decisions made in relation to allowed medical research and procedures. In the President’s council we see a strong opposition for cloning for reproductive purposes, but two major groups split on the idea of stem cell research: the majority being against and the minority being for. On the other hand, Breiowitz and Prainsack put forth the benefits associated with cloning. Both Breiowitz and Prainsack combat issues brought up in the Council’s statement such as the lack of individuality a clone may feel: Breiowitz states that under Jewish law, genetics does not define the human; the mortality rate involved with the cloning process: Prainsack argues that Jewish law believes that embryos not within the uterus are not considered human and a born human life is of a higher priority than a life in development, so if one is cloning for the purposes of saving an already born human’s life, then such an argument would be invalidated; and finally, the council believes that it is “morally wrong to-destroy human life”, they also state “we find it disquieting to treat what are in fact seeds of the next generation as mere raw material for satisfying our own need” Breiowitz argues that in a land where abortion is permissible by law and is a heavily supported medical practice (the U.S.), why is cloning deemed so immoral, when in fact cloning can be the answer to a disease-ridden individual’s ailments, while abortion does not provide that same benefit. Both go on to provide arguments for and against cloning, in an almost literary debate, supporting or refuting either’s claims. One area that there is some agreeance however, is the possibility of “therapeutic” cloning, or Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), which is the process of replacing an enucleated egg cell and implanting a somatic cell’s nucleus. The reason why this is less opposed is because of all the medical benefits provided, those of which could provide answers to some of the most debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s and those in need of vital organs.

What I find interesting is how the Councilmen/women derive their definition of moral and ethical. While Breiowitz and Prainsack call on Jewish Law and religious texts, the President’s Council on Bioethics seem to have a weaker definition. The council places the word “moral” throughout their statement alluding to the idea that moral = right and not moral = wrong, but the issue is that right and wrong are just as vague of a translation of moral, as moral is of right and wrong. Their “moral”, appears to be pulled from a place of societal consensus, as in the majority of people would say that it is not right to lie, so not lying = moral, and lying = immoral. But one might say that it is right to lie if it is results in a more positive outcome for the person being lied to, for example, telling a child that their drawing of you is beautiful, when you actually believe the opposite. In this case, moral =lying (and sparing a child’s feelings) and immoral= telling the truth (and being considered a jerk). This is a minor example, but it is such an example that exemplifies the ability of the word moral to be vague and baseless when speaking without a place of derivation, thus is the difficult job of a bioethicists: defining the ethics in bioethics. For this reason, I found Breiowitz’s and Prainsack’s articles more compelling. Which text did you find most compelling? Did you find the ability of Breiowitz and Prainsack to justify cloning with the use of Jewish texts (regardless of your personal religion) more compelling or did you find the President’s Council on Bioethics’ statement on cloning, one in which religion was not used as a basis of argument, more compelling? Why?

6 Replies to “Module 5: (Emma) Public Policy and the Possibilities for Being Human”

  1. Emma,

    Thanks you for the comprehensive summary! You tied together many of the ideas that I found to be important as well. You also raised a really good question that I would like to address further. I think depending on the way that you view the texts, either one could be argued to be the more compelling one. I found the writing of Breiowitz and Prainsack to be persuasive because they used religious texts to argue for a side, which is not favored by the majority. I really liked how they incorporated religion, which can be seen as conservative and strict when it comes to reproductive technologies, and made the point that their religion does not specifically outlaw cloning. Because Breiowitz and Prainsack took what can be seen as a minority position on such a divided subject, their argument is compelling. On the other hand, while some of the terms used within the President’s Council on Bioethics’ statement on cloning were somewhat vague, I think their argument can be found to be compelling as well. Solely based on the fact that religion was taken out of the argument makes their argument more accessible to a wider range of people. It is easier for the world to relate when religion is taken out of the statement because there are no other unseen driving factors capable of persuading views. I also think that because the statement was more based on evidence and findings, it is easier for people to follow and believe.

  2. Thank you, Emma. I really like this post. I think you did a great job of bringing together the readings in an engaging way. To answer your question, I would say that I also found the articles from Breiowitz and Prainsack to be more compelling, perhaps because of their presentation and aims. The PCBE’s aim was to advise the president and even included arguments for (although in lesser amounts) and against cloning. Moreover, I think knowing that I was getting the information from many medical experts (PCBE) rather than social scientists (Breiowitz and Prainsack) made me feel like I could relate–for lack of a better word– less. At the same time though, I must say that I thought the PCBE was in-depth and comprehensive. It was nice to see arguments on both sides of the spectrum. Maybe Breiowitz and Prainsack could have provided more counterarguments and refuted them because I think it could have made me trust their articles more. Nonetheless, I thought all 3 pieces were interesting.

  3. I thought your summaries were really helpful to understanding these complex texts! The idea of being a collaborator with God rather than playing God is one of the most important distinctions between the Jewish and Christian/American views on cloning. Deuteronomy 30:12 says the famous quote, “lo bashamayim hi – it is not in heaven,” which is a one of the main Jewish texts that justifies people’s authority to interpret the Torah and take life into their own hands. According to Judaism, God gave humans the opportunity to make change and repair the world. And therefore, if cloning would be an acceptable way to help fix the world, it should be used.
    Your discussion of the linguistic question of moral being right vs. a truth is fascinating. I didn’t really think of it that way, but now that I am thinking about it, it does seem to work that way.

  4. Nice post Emma! You provided a very comprehensive overview of the different texts. I want to respond to two ideas you bring up. Firstly, I really liked what you said about the necessity of defining the ethics within bioethics. I don’t agree with the idea of something being definitively moral or immoral because that assumes that everyone has the same relationship to both morality and to the situation/action in question. I’ve always learned that ethics exists as a framework, not as a way to mark things as inherently good or bad. Secondly, I want to push back on your idea that the people involved in the President’s Council were operating from a fully non-religious background. Even though they were not using specific texts, religion – and in the United States, Christianity specifically – has shaped so many of our perspectives and values, even when we might not realize it. So I would be curious to re-read the President’s Council’s report from a religious studies lens to see if there are religious influences masked in their value judgments.

    1. Hey Alana! I agree that these councilmen have been shaped by their own personal religious beliefs as I am sure their stance has been shaped by personal experience, social class, the subject’s closeness to home, etc. and I believe it would be absurd to not think so. To better word my question, the councilmen’s statements and methods of justification in the world of anthropology and literary writing do not appear to be classified as a religious text, unlike Breiowitz’ for example, which is coming form a place of Jewish bioethics -based in Judaism. In the same way we classified Donum Vitae as a religious text vs “Reproducing Jews” as an ethnographical text, I believe a similar distinction separates the ways in which the opposing texts are written. However, it would be interesting to read the Bioethics council’s statement from a religious perspective and attempt to decipher where such beliefs are pulled from: if these men have the same of differing religions, or if they are possibly even atheist, where they pull their moral definition from would be helpful for agreement and argument’s sake.

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