Oct 23, 2009 — This year’s Yeshiva University Medical Ethics Conference—organized by over 50 students in conjunction with YU’s Center for the Jewish Future and supported by the Fuld family—discussed the latest advances in detecting some 1,600 genetic diseases, coupled with perspectives of leading rabbinic authorities on the issues that have emerged.

The conference, titled “The Human Blueprint: Jewish Perspectives on Modern Genetics,” featured experts in biology, halacha [Jewish law] and groundbreaking medical research on reproductive science and endocrinology in a full day of plenaries and breakout sessions attended by over 400 students, faculty, alumni and guests.

The Oct. 18 event was organized entirely by the Student Medical Ethics Society under the guidance of Dr. Edward Reichman, associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a rabbi who was ordained by Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). The students in the Medical Ethics Society receive mentoring and leadership skills from staff at the CJF.

“In Bereishit we learned that God made man from the dust of the ground but scientists have proven that every one of us has an intricate pattern of genetic information that makes us unique,” said Tali Bauman, co-president of the Medical Ethics Society with Sam Weprin. “Our obligation is to continue to understand the development of humanity through the lens of halacha.”

Weprin said the society’s goal was “to put education and awareness of medical ethics issues and halacha not only into our learning but beyond the University’s walls as well.”

The conference, webcast to an audience in Israel, discussed genetic issues relating to cancer, reproduction, DNA, forensics, aging and longevity. It featured medical experts such as Dr. Harry Ostrer, professor of pediatrics, pathology and medicine and director of the Human Genetics Program at New York University School of Medicine; Dr. Susan Lobel, the founder of Metropolitan Reproductive Medicine; and Dr. Wayne A. Rosenkrans, a distinguished fellow at the Center for Biomedical Innovation at MIT.

Rabbinic authorities included Rabbi Moshe D. Tendler, the Rabbi Isaac and Bella Tendler Professor of Jewish Medical Ethics and rosh yeshiva at RIETS; Rabbi Mordechai Willig, rosh yeshiva and the Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth Professor of Talmud and Contemporary Halachah at RIETS; and Rabbi Herschel Schachter, the Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professor of Talmud at RIETS and head of its Marcos and Adina Katz Kollel.

Rabbi Kenneth Brander, The David Mitzner Dean of the CJF, explored the theological implications of our ability to perform genetic embryo screening through Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). He highlighted the religious mandate to proactively obliterate genetic illness while pointing out that we are God’s junior partner in the creation process.