Memorandum from the Office of the Chief
1. The Office of the Chief Rabbi welcomes
the opportunity to submit comments to the House of Commons Science
and Technology Committee Inquiry into Human Reproductive Technologies
and the Law.
2. The Office of the Chief Rabbi is the
religious authority of the United Synagogue, and various other
communities a round the country. In total, it is responsible for
over 140 synagogue communities in the UK. The United Synagogue
alone is the largest synagogual membership body in the UK, comprising
over 30,000 households. The Chief Rabbi also heads a Court ("Beth
Din"), which makes rulings and decisions on Jewish legal
matters, and provides guidance on moral issues within the framework
of Jewish law.
3. There are four separate questions raised
in the Press Notice. In the Committee's consideration of all these
questions, we hope that they will continue to be mindful of the
need to respect Judaic traditions, and to make provision wherever
necessary and appropriate for Jews to fulfil their religious obligations.
4. It is worthwhile reiterating some of
the general comments that have been made in previous submissions
to Parliament. Judaism affirms that human life is sacred, and
must be protected and respected; that human life is a gift of
God we do not own it, rather we are its trustees; and that,
as part of the covenant between God and humanity, we are responsible
for the legacy we leave to future generations. We believe, too,
that we are God's partners in the work of creation, both as innovators
and as protectors, and that this partnership obliges us to be
guided by ethical principles.
5. Against this background our general views
on issues such as the balance between legislation and regulation,
about the role of Parliament, about the role of the European Union,
and about the relationship between the Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Act (1990) and other areas of medical practice, are
unchanged. Our impression is that the current regulatory framework
has been successful overall, but that it should continue to leave
space for conscientious objection on the part of physician or
6. Many of the questions that are being
raised in this area have increasingly become supranational issues,
requiring close international co-operation. Finally, Government,
in consultation with advisory experts in the medical profession,
have an obligation to act with responsibility: this includes the
responsibility to review recent advances in biomedical knowledge,
and to adapt accordingly.
7. It is such advances that have led your Committee
to ask us to address the more specific issues that are raised
in question 3, pertaining to the Jewish viewpoint on various new
areas of research. Within the confines of a brief response it
is difficult to give a Jewish legal ruling on each of these topics,
all of which could be the subject of a treatise. The principles,
however, remain clear. The embryo is not a person, but must be
treated with the respect due to a form of human life. Once in
vitro fertilisation has been used, then research can be carried
out on any additional embryos. This research may be either into
improved reproductive technology, or with the aim of curing illness.
For example, it follows from this that therapeutic objectives
provide a justification in Jewish law for studies on embryonic
stem cells and their derivatives.
8. Conversely, creation of embryos purely
for research objectives is unnecessary and unjustified. In our
earlier submission we made clear that, while one cannot say explicitly
that Jewish law forbids reproductive cloning, there are broader
moral reasons why this should not be permitted. The dangers of
regarding persons as means rather than ends, and of commoditisation
of human life, are significant. We must have reverence in the
face of what we do not understand, coupled with a sense of responsibility
for future generations, and the restraint not to do everything
that technology allows us to do: "ought" presupposes
"can", but "can" entails neither "ought"
9. Since the previous submission, the possibilities
for cell nuclear transfer and therapeutic cloning have increased.
As indicated in that submission with respect to embryonic stem
cells, the community favours a regulatory mechanism for these
activities, either the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority
or some similar body. Ovarian and testicular transplantation raise
complex questions about parenthood in Jewish law, and the motivation
for such procedures would need to be evaluated carefully on a
case-by-case basis, but there would not be a principled systemic
objection. We believe that selection of genetic characteristics
is already happening within in vitro fertilisation programmes,
and it would make sense for this too to be within the remit of
the regulatory body.
10. With respect to screening embryos prior
to implantation, there is a distinction in kind between screening
for genetic disease, including some forms of cancer, and screening
for eugenic considerations, including sex selection. While we
would agree with the former, we would strongly oppose the latter.
11. This brief summary does not, of course,
do full justice to many of the issues that will be discussed by
the Committee. Should you require a more detailed exposition of
the Jewish law relating to any question, and in particular to
any one of the specific topics raised in question 3, we hope that
the Committee will be in contact with us as soon as possible so
that we can prepare the necessary documentation.