The Ethics of Genetic Testing – A Jewish Perspective

Prepared by Rabbi Darren Kleinberg

  • Jewish tradition mandates that we take proper care of our health and avoid danger and injury. Jewish law – halacha – puts greater emphasis on those laws relating to the prohibition against endangering one’s life than those regarding ritual prohibitions.
  • Mental health is as much a concern of Jewish tradition as is physical health. Having timely genetic screening and counseling is a way of preserving the mental health of prospective parents.
  • According to Jewish law, physicians have a special obligation to heal because of their training – this would include preventative methods such as genetic testing. Receiving timely genetic screening and counseling are ways that the patient participates with medical professionals in the healing process.
  • Some people express a concern that genetic testing and other procedures related to procreation are discomforting as we are “playing God.” Jewish tradition does not view using advanced technology to sustain life – or improve the quality of life – as an interference with God’s will. Rather, it is a positive usage of God’s creation.
  • The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism encourages its affiliated congregations to educate its members about the benefits and concerns connected with genetic testing. (1999)
  • The Union for Reform Judaism resolves to … Promote education and open dialogue within our families, congregations, and organizations about … genetic testing and its implications. (1997)

“Humanity of old who could not fight disease and succumbed in multitude to yellow fever or any other plague with degrading helplessness could not lay claim to dignity. Only humanity that builds hospitals, discovers therapeutic techniques and saves lives is blessed with dignity.”
-Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “The Lonely Man of Faith” (1965)