JERUSALEM -- Genetic engineering on humans will be disallowed by law for five years, the Israeli parliament decided, until a "thorough prior examination of the ethical, legal, moral, sociological and scientific aspects of such interference and its repercussions on human dignity have been assessed," said the bill's sponsor, Hagai Merom.

The Israeli Knesset (parliament) on Dec. 29 unanimously passed the Anti-Genetic Intervention Law, which bans attempts to clone human beings. This followed the bill's consecutive second and third readings. The law defines the type of prohibited genetic intervention as any act aimed at cloning, multiplying or creating a human that is chromosomally identical to another human.

Merom said he was "driven to propose the bill by reports on the cloning of Dolly the sheep amid rumors about experiments aimed at cloning human beings."

The evaluation of all applicable research in Israel will be done under the supervision and recommendations of the national Helsinki Committee.

Rabbinical considerations were taken into account in the bill's formulation "as part of the greater picture" in defining the cloning ban, Merom said. Rabbi Moshe Tendler, one of the foremost Jewish ethicists in the world and an eminent Talmudic scholar (who is also a microbiologist and pharmacologist), was quoted as saying that in biblical context, God said to Adam, "Be fruitful and multiply" and "Fill the earth and conquer it." The first edict Tendler understood to mean that human beings "not only have license, but obligation to peel away the veils of ignorance from nature. To investigate the mysteries of nature is part of our religious obligation," he said, "as well as our privilege, which might include genetic engineering of humans."

Public Strongly Opposed To Cloning

However, he said, when God commanded, "Fill my earth and conquer it," rather than "Fill my earth and conquer humanity," the concept of genetic engineering was prohibited.

Tendler said he considers, specifically, the curing of any disease by inserting foreign genes a "clearly positive if not obligatory stance to master defects and enhance the human ability to live up to the fullest potential."

A preliminary government survey shows that the public is also strongly opposed to cloning, regardless of the profession or economic status of those polled. Most were strongly against the idea of using cloning for reproductive purposes, citing concerns about the future of society as much as fears about "unnatural" science. On the other hand, the potential for cloning techniques to benefit medical treatment was "appreciated," despite some concern over which research would be acceptable in laboratory studies and the ability to "control the results" once achieved.

The chair of the Knesset committee for scientific and technological research and development, Michael Nudelman, speaking before the parliament, noted that "various countries and international organizations have expressed concern that, although valuable for its medical potential, cloning could be misused and endanger the character of human society. Unregulated human cloning is as yet unheard of."

Nudelman added that in the U.S., for example, the federal government has decided to withhold funds for research that would lead to cloning, and to reexamine the issue in five years. In most other countries, laws regarding genetic cloning are included under general laws dealing with fertility issues. *

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