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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Judaism and Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Embryonic-stem-cell research is an area of remarkable moral and theological consensus among Jews (Reform and Orthodox). Given that Judaism is biased in favor medicine and there are no clear grounds in Jewish law for treating human embryos as inviolable, it then follows that potentially life-saving research trumps any moral concerns about the exploitation and destruction of human embryos in the laboratory. This ought to trouble any of us observing our "elder brothers in faith." Eric Cohen, of the EPPC, challenges his fellow Jews, particularly the Orthodox, on a couple of fronts including the celebration of God's majestic creation. His truffle quotes begin:
Human dignity does not depend on being wanted by others; and being doomed to death does not make human beings into things -- otherwise, the terminally ill would be in danger of being turned into ready sources of organs. In the end, the moral question hinges on the moral standing of human embryos themselves -- on what human embryos are and what we owe them. And it seems irresponsible for Judaism to seek the fruits of modern science without confronting the facts [of] modern biology -- which demonstrates, beyond reasonable doubt, that the embryo is a complete human organism from the moment of conception, with purposeful division and development from the very beginning, and with primordial limbs, organs, and beating heart tissue by age 40 days.
he goes on:
While acting positively to save life is a great Jewish good, so is preserving a society that welcomes the weak and never kills the innocent. Even if embryos are not our ontological or moral equals -- though the argument for such a position is hard to make on rational grounds -- there are good Jewish reasons not to promote the destruction of nascent human life, precisely because it will corrode the sensibilities that make us good people -- and good Jews. It is simply wrong to appeal to Jewish law on abortion, which privileges the life of the mother over the life of the unborn child, as a moral justification. Jewish law does so, after all, only in cases where the unborn child is a “pursuer” who threatens the mother’s life and health directly. With embryo research, by contrast, there is no direct conflict between an embryo and a patient, and we are not in the position of using particular embryos to save particular patients. Rather, we are proposing a speculative research project that requires the massive, ongoing destruction of human embryos. And this should make all Jews and all decent citizens shudder -- not only for what it is, but for where it might lead.
and concludes:
[A]s Jews, are we really so sure that medical progress justifies or requires the full-scale dehumanization of early human life? Have we forgotten not only the words but also the spirit of Ecclesiastes: “As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, Nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; Even so thou knowest not the work of God Who doeth all things”?

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