Whence You Came

At some point, a tiny human embryo, properly cared for, becomes a baby.

Taken apart, however, an embryo can provide embryonic stem cells that can be coaxed to grow into practically any tissue of the body, offering the hope that experimenting with them could yield treatments for a host of diseases.

Some equate such experimentation on embryos with murder; others dismiss out of hand any concern for what is done to what is, at the time, an undifferentiated biological mass. Those are the positions on the extremes of the embryonic stem cell research spectrum.

From the perspective of Jewish religious law, things are not as simple as either polar position. A host of fine-point factors imbue the calculus, which is why Agudath Israel, on the advice of the rabbinical leaders at its helm, has not taken a public stance on the issue. But an issue it is. And President Obama, it seems, recognizes that fact.

Back in March, the President issued an Executive Order lifting Bush Administration limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, enthusing proponents of such science.

“We’re thrilled,” said a spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine at the time, “that the president is going to lift the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.” In the Jewish world, Reform Rabbi David Saperstein, director of his movement’s Religious Action Center, wrote how “refreshing” he found it to have an administration “committed to rooting its science policy in fact, no matter its ideology, rather than rooting its science policy in ideology, no matter the facts.”

But the “ideology” in this context would be better described as an ethical concern. Communism and fascism are ideologies; respect for human life, whether at its end or its beginning, is a matter of morality. As Slate columnist William Saletan has written, to dismiss opposition to embryonic research as “ideology” is to “forget the moral problem.” Some proponents of embryo research, he observes, regard “the war on disease… like the war on terror. Either you’re with science or you’re against it.”

Not so, thankfully, Mr. Obama. Last month, under his direction, the National Institutes of Health revealed details of the change in policy. Whereas the Bush administration had approved 21 already established stem cell lines for federally funded research, now stem cells from embryos slated for destruction – largely those left over from fertility treatments, with donors’ written consent – will be available to researchers for experimentation funded by federal tax dollars.

Mr. Obama, however, did not voice support for using federal funds to create embryos for research purposes. While privately funded researchers have never been barred from creating and destroying embryos, since 1996 a federal law known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment has disallowed federal funds to be used for such purposes. Noting that “Many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research,” the President opted not to enter the Dickey-Wicker sticky wicket.

The New York Times editorial page was not amused, calling the President’s stance “the easy political path.” The Religious Action Center was, uncharacteristically, silent. Researchers voiced vexation. Dr. Irving Weissman, director of a stem cell research facility at Stanford University, asserted that the NIH’s guidelines put an “ideological barrier in the way” of treating disease. The “I” word again.

Thankfully, the entire issue of whether it is ethical to create potential humans in order to dismember them for scientific purposes – or, at least, to federally fund the enterprise – may be in the process of becoming moot. Two years ago, Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka found that adult skin cells – millions of which each of us can spare without much trouble – can be induced to revert to an embryonic stage. Such technology, says Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, a stem cell researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, “may eventually eclipse the embryonic stem cell lines for therapeutic as well as diagnostics applications.” In fact, there are clear advantages, particularly in potential therapeutic use, for treating patients with cells that originated in their own bodies.

Should Dr. Yamanaka’s finding open up a new and ethically untroubling universe of cells for research, the day may be coming when no one will have any reason or wish to destroy embryos. And certainly not to grow them into fetuses in order to harvest their organs – the next-step idea broached several months ago at a scientific symposium in England.

In the meantime, we Americans can be comforted by the knowledge that our President seems to recognize the gravity of the fact that human embryos can grow into people as real as the readers of these lines.

© 2009 AM ECHAD RESOURCES

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

All Am Echad Resources essays are offered without charge for personal use and sharing, and for publication with permission, provided the above copyright notice is appended.

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

28 comments to Whence You Came

  • David N. Friedman

    Having just posted about this on another part of this blog–this entry by Rabbi Shafran is timely.

    However, it brings up another complaint which refutes the point made by another reader to this blog, stating that Orthodox Jews are over-involved in politics. This is a wildly inaccurate statement. As Rabbi Shafran admits, the OU has no official policy on the subject, while the activists on the left have a public policy position on just about everything under the sun.

    It is long since time that the Orthodox community begin to take at least some pro-life positions. I have discussed this topic with many different Rabbis and many of them are simply unwilling to speak publicly about anything political. Rabbi Shafran now wants to escape the pressure of a public position with the breakthrough of non-embryonic techniques–inadequately publicized by our media. This does create an easy escape clause and as I have commented previously, while California has devoted 6 billion dollars of taxpayer dollars they do not have, in a state on the verge of bankruptcy, to destroy fertilized embryos for medical research–it would have been good if someone in the Jewish community spoke about not only the waste of such a stand given the medical breakthroughs in non-embryonic solutions but the folly and immorality of taxpayer funding for such wasteful governmental action.

    Rabbi Shafran is somehow convinced that Mr. Obama is somewhat circumspect regarding the moral issues of embryos–I am not and I am not at all sure about what he has noticed. In every news account I have read, the Obama administration has given a green light to join in on the willful destruction of embryos–down the same path which has brought us “hope” and “potential” and incredible “flexibility” but absolutely nothing concrete while medical discoveries and breakthroughs using adult stems cells is bringing real life-saving solutions. I have never heard the embryo killing crowd once indicate that they were wrong and when Obama, as soon as he took office, almost immediately broke President Bush’s policy–there was no mention of the science which is so one-sided in terms of what really cures disease and helps people.

    We will have to keep waiting for the OU to state for the record that 53 million abortions in this nation is a desecration of God’s name and immoral based upon Jewish law since less than 1% of those abortions had anything to do with the life or direct health threat of the mother.

    One cannot help but be frustrated with the demagoguery of the Democrats on such topics as science and public health. Surely there is enough in dispute without suggesting that one party more than another is more interested in saving lives. Yet, this is exactly the claim put forward by the Left in their crazed multi-pronged attack on President Bush. To make President Bush an enemy of the health of the nation–they had to insist that he was preventing the progress of science by limiting embryonic stem cell research.

  • One Christian's perspective

    It is long since time that the Orthodox community begin to take at least some pro-life positions. I have discussed this topic with many different Rabbis and many of them are simply unwilling to speak publicly about anything political. – Comment by David N. Friedman

    David, I understand your pain but I fully understand the reluctance to speak in public. Attack and destroy is the method of operation for our media who have created a you vs us war within our nation. Who wants to put their family through this. Change can happen but it is going to take God fearing individuals speaking to folks we know and whom we are comfortable with sharing God’s values to them in truth and in love. We have to move out of our comfort zone to do this. How it happens, only God knows.

  • Bob Miller

    Rabbi Shafran,

    This article states:
    “From the perspective of Jewish religious law, things are not as simple as either polar position. A host of fine-point factors imbue the calculus, which is why Agudath Israel, on the advice of the rabbinical leaders at its helm, has not taken a public stance on the issue. But an issue it is.”

    Let’s say there is a non-polar, nuanced position that expresses the view of our Halacha on this topic. What factors would inhibit Agudath Israel from making such a position known?

  • Raymond

    I think it is some kind of absurd joke, borne of ignorance, to say that the Orthodox Jewish community is over-involved in politics. I have closely interacted with that community virtually my entire life, and if anything, I feel frustrated by their lack of interest in politics. So few Jews in general vote for the candidates and even causes that best represents their self-interest. With some glaringly exceptions (Hillary!), Orthodox Jews do vote in favor of their own interests, so this segment of the Jewish population needs to become less indifferent to being politically involved.

    As for stem cell research, I very strongly suspect that the true motivation for its supporters, is that it gives such people a feeling of self-righteousness that aborted babies serve some useful purpose. In turn, such sentiments encourage more and more abortions, which to me is the single worst moral blight on the American people. How can the very same country that claims to be the moral leader among all of the world’s superpowers, allow more than a million helpless, unborn babies to be murdered every year? Even more tragic in my mind are the abortions being committed on Jewish babies in Israel. Don’t we have enough enemies who love to murder our people, without us joining in on their enjoyment?

    I do not know enough about biology or Jewish law to know if stem cell research in and of itself, should be considered morally permissible. At the same time, though, I do know that such research should not be something funded by us taxpayers. Even if stem cell research turns out to be something we as a society should be engaged in, it is something that should be privately funded only.

  • whathername

    Recently the North Dakota house passed the personhood bill, HB 1572 which would have given fertilized human eggs full human rights. Thankfully the N. Dakota senate did not pass this bill, maybe they were busy with all the flooding. If this bill had been passed it would have set a dangerous (to women) legal precedent. If fertilized human eggs have full and equal “right to life” same as any other “human” then even threats to the life of the pregnant women would not justify abortion. The Catholic church “pro-life” policy is forthright about this and women are expected to die in childbirth rather than permit abortion. Yet there is silence about this on this and other Jewish sites. Why is it that when human embryos are at stake that is worthy of comment but when women are being threatened there is silence?

  • Ori

    What’s her name, how often are abortion actually performed to save the life of the mother? How often does a pregnancy risk the life of the mother in the first 28 weeks, before the fetus can be delivered by c-section and be fully viable outside the womb?

    The lack on interest in HB 1572 in North Dakota might be related to the small size of the Jewish population there, the relatively rareness of abortions that are required according to save the life of the mother, and the fact that in those rare cases it’s a short bus trip to Canada where such an abortion would be permitted.

  • mb

    Whathername.

    I think you would be quite surprised how liberal Orthodox legal decisors are when it comes to abortion. No, it’s not permitted for convenience, but it is for a whole slew of other physical and emotional issues.

  • Charlie Hall

    The Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America support therapeutic cloning, in which embryos are created for research purposes:

    OU & RCA Joint Statement on “Cloning Research, Jewish Tradition & Public Policy”
    March 08, 2004
    Cloning Research, Jewish Tradition & Public Policy; A Joint Statement by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the Rabbinical Council of America

    Society today stands on the threshold of a new era in biomedical research. The wisdom granted to humans by our Creator has led to our greater understanding and knowledge of the building blocks of human life itself. Scientists revealed the existence and role of DNA and cellular science many years ago. Currently, scientists are not only able to describe the nature of cellular life, but manipulate it as well. We are now faced with the possibility of mastering the art of this manipulation to the point of being able to clone in research laboratories the cells that, in other circumstances, lead to fully developed human beings.

    A debate has emerged in American society at large and among our elected leaders as to whether public policy should permit, encourage, restrict or ban the further conduct of this biomedical research. The issue is one with complex moral dimensions. On the one hand scientific research indicates that there is great life-saving potential in the results that can come from cloning research. On the other hand, we must be vigilant against any erosion of the value that society accords to human life.

    Our Torah tradition places great value upon human life; we are taught in the opening chapters of Genesis that each human was created in God’s image. After creating man and woman, God empowered them to enter a partnership with Him in the stewardship of the world. The Torah commands us to treat and cure the ill and to defeat disease wherever possible; to do this is to be the Creator’s partner in safeguarding the created. The traditional Jewish perspective thus emphasizes that maximizing the potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life. Moreover, our tradition states that an embryo in vitro does not enjoy the full status of human-hood and its attendant protections. Thus, if cloning technology research advances our ability to heal humans with greater success, it ought to be pursued since it does not require or encourage the destruction of life in the process.

    However, cloning research must not be pursued indiscriminately. We must be careful to distinguish between cloning for therapeutic purposes – which ought to be pursued, and cloning for reproductive purposes – which we oppose. Thus, this research must be conducted under strict guidelines and with strict limitations to ensure that the research is indeed serving therapeutic purposes.

    Consistent with this policy, we advocate that a fully funded and empowered oversight body comprised of scientists and ethicists be created to monitor this research. Relevant Executive-branch agencies and congressional committees should conduct periodic reviews as well. The oversight process should pay special attention to ensuring that the embryos used in this research are not brought to a point which constitutes human-hood.

    We believe that the policy stated herein articulates the perspective of the Torah tradition and the community we represent and achieves the correct balance between pursuing new methods for saving human lives and maintaining the fundamental respect and sanctity of human life.

  • Elizabeth

    Ori, it’s not so simple. Let me tell you a story: I worked in an ob/gyn clinic, and one morning I entered an exam room for what I had assumed would be a routine pregnancy checkup. I asked the patient how she was doing, and she didn’t answer. Then, before I could ask a follow-up question, she burst into tears and told me that she’d had an abortion but was afraid of telling the doctor. This patient had apparently been suffering from progressively worsening hyperemesis gravidarum since her last checkup (a condition in which a pregnant woman feels extreme nausea and has protracted vomiting during pregnancy). The vomiting was so bad for her that she was told (by a different physician) that she would need to be hospitalized for the next few months in order to receive intravenous nutrition. However, she pretended to feel better in order to avoid the hospitalization since she was afraid of losing her job.
    Did this mother do the right thing? She did have a choice in this situation–and if she had been very, very staunchly pro-life, she might have gone through with the hospitalization. But I can’t ignore the fact that the abortion was nonetheless devastating for her. Taking the position that “abortion is wrong” (and through closely linked arguments that stem-cell research is also wrong) has the side effect of putting an untenable burden on women; Whathername alludes to this problem. Ori, even using the litmus test of “saving the life of the mother” to determine the validity of an abortion is a bad idea. The truth is, all pregnancies are life-threatening; it’s all a matter of degree. In the developing world, the maternal mortality rate is horrifying. In the United States, we are lucky to have access to services, diagnostics, procedures, and medical treatments that have dramatically reduced this rate.
    Of course, determining whether or not stem-cell research is permissible does not involve determining how dangerous being pregnant is, but this debate is strongly related to the abortion issue nonetheless. All in all, these are difficult questions.

    [Editor’s Note: The questions are difficult, and the consequences onerous. All the same, it must be pointed out that traditional Jews do believe that answers are available. In this case, one does not have to be “very, very pro-life” to understand the halachic response. Abortion, where the life of the mother is not threatened, is a capital crime for non-Jews according to the Noachide Code of Gemara Sanhedrin. There should have been other options for the unfortunate mother. Terminating the pregnancy is not one of them.]

  • Bob Miller

    Charlie Hall,

    Has the level of oversight envisioned in the OU-RCA statement on cloning research been implemented to their satisfaction? If the answer is no, or if the OU and RCA have not been keeping track of the oversight issue over the last five years, they ought now to re-evaluate their position.

  • whathername

    re: Ori’s comment.The halacha is that the life of the pregnant woman takes precedence over the life of the unborn. IT is not a matter of numbers, it’s about making distinctions. We must not sacrifice even ONE pregnant woman, if we do then we have no business calling ourselves pro-life. The Talmud states that to remain silent is to be complicit. Why is it that people could care less that a state almost passed a law obliterating all distinction between fertilized human eggs and born human beings? Why the silence when the Vatican says woman should die in childbirth rather than to have a life saving abortion? What is the halacha again? Are we upholding it? Recently in Brazil a nine year old girl was allegedly raped by her stepfather. Her mother and family got her an abortion. The Catholic church excommunicated the mother and those responsible for getting the nine year old an abortion.(but the child molesting rapist is still in good standing with the church). The church reasoned the pregnancy wasn’t a threat to the life of the girl. She could “just” have had a Ceasarian and she probably wouldn’t die. How’s that for mercy? They would cut into a nine year old rape victim in their great compassion for the life of the unborn. People give their attention to what is IMPORTANT to them. I think the silence about the North Dakota law and the Catholic policy and the nine year rape victim is due to a very simple reason: some people have more mercy and concern for zygotes than for women.

  • Yehoshua Friedman

    I think that perhaps the gedolim are reticent to take too many political positions because, unlike the blissfully ignorant liberal Jews, they have historical perspective and realize that we are in golus. With the degree of anti-Semitism in the world unprecedented since the ’30s and ’40s, it’s not far-fetched. Remember how prominent Jews were in pre-Nazi Weimar Germany. Many leftist Jews were known for their contributions to science, government, business and culture, and some of that culture was pretty decadent. Not all gentiles are happy to see such Jewish overachievement in their country. It is true that America is theoretically unlike other nations in that everyone except the Indians is an immigrant or descendent of immigrants, but French Jews who were there since the time of Rashi were always considered foreigners. That’s the way it always was and will be until the time of Mashiach. So it is wise to tread lightly. It is even wiser to make aliya and help make Eretz Yisrael into a Torah nation.

  • David N. Friedman

    I will not repeat this again but I would surely enjoy an answer. Why is it not relevant that stem cell research from adult stem cells is producing all the great scientific advances while stem cell research employing embryos is producing hardly a single innovation–only the hope and the potential for something supposedly wonderful? Why won’t the OU see the reality of non-embryonic techniques and push for the advancement of the best science?

    It seems that the Catholic Church and the OU are being fooled and shamed into supporting procedures that are not coming up with real medical advances while ignoring the incredible advances that do not use embryos. When Obama signed his recent edict opening up embryonic stem cell research–it was falsely alleged that America was being freed from the supposedly backward and anti-scientific weirdo conservatives.

    Why not have a reality check–why resist the truth and the reality? Adult stem cells are a revolutionary discovery–now more than 10 years of consistent success and greater and greater advances. By contrast, embryonic stem cell research is beloved by the Left and is, in reality, almost entirely money down the drain with billions of dollars and more than a decade of abject failure.

    I suppose this is all consistent with the fetish on FDR’s plans that wrecked the economy–wrongly seen as some kind of virtue– and all the rest of the upside down thinking on the part of the Left–leading to Obama’s New, New Deal to wreck the economy, environmentalism and global warming, nationalized health care–the whole worthless program.

    But is there no pragmatism even for the our most medically indigent?

    Over 50 million abortions in this country cannot be justified under Jewish law and perhaps only 1% at most have anything to do with the life of the mother. Again, where does the OU stand on 53 million abortions? Where does the OU stand on stem cells when our President is steering precious resources away from the known cures and into speculative ones? I am not asking about theoretical questions–I understand that *if* something positive could come from embryo research–it could be justified. Fine. I am sticking to reality here. What does the OU think about spending money on unproven research instead of proven research? Is there ever a cost-benefit calculation? Is it moral to advance a line of research under the terms of particular, narrow guidelines when the natural outcome of that research is cloning–only a short step beyond the guideline?

    Any response would be appreciated.

  • Phil

    President Obama comes out looking pretty good in this article. However, perhaps we can get a better picture of his views on embryos by who he picked as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius.

  • Raymond

    For whatever my opinion is worth, I very much like what Yehoshua Friedman said two statements above, and he said it so well. So perfect was his statement, that I cannot think of any way to either disagree with him, or add anything new to what he said. All I can say is that whoever he is, his is the kind of thinking that I regard as among the finest examples of traditional Jewish thought.

  • David N. Friedman

    Yehoshua Friedman’s comment almost exactly reflects what has been expressed by my Rabbi, whose opinions are a reflection of the thoughts of the gedolim who exert primary power over Orthodox rabbis.

    There is a moral vacuum in America and we are in the middle of some serious societal shifts. While we “tread lightly” we allow others to push loudly and this surely begs the question concerning moral leadership.

    Concerning abortions, governmental redistribution of wealth, homosexual marriage, global warming, prayer and so many other topics the individual opinions of Orthodox Jews by and large are politically conservative and yet there is almost no organized attempt to speak out to exert our communal moral leadership. We choose to tread lightly. I am simply here to raise my hand and ask–is this really best?

  • Charles B. Hall

    Bob Miller,

    You asked,

    “Has the level of oversight envisioned in the OU-RCA statement on cloning research been implemented to their satisfaction?”

    The answer is no, because the federal government isn’t funding such research! Institutions that no not receive government funding are exempt from ethics mandates regarding humans. Government funding of such research would allow the appropriate ethical guidelines to be established and enforced.

    David Friedman,

    You asked,

    “Where does the OU stand on stem cells when our President is steering precious resources away from the known cures and into speculative ones?”

    I’ve been a part of the peer review process for numerous research grant proposals. We are now in the ironic situation that it may now be *easier* to get embryonic stem cell research funded because of the state initiatives that were implemented to counteract the Bush administration’s ill-advised ban and because of the recent tight budgets at the agencies that fund scientific research. Better would have been to allow such research to be considered on its merits along with competing research proposals, and to have had such research subject to the same ethical oversight as all other research.

  • Bob Miller

    Charles B. Hall wrote, “Institutions that no not receive government funding are exempt from ethics mandates regarding humans.”

    Charles, do you feel we as Jews, and our organizations, should be concerned about unethical behavior in the non-government-funded sector regarding such matters? If so, what should we do to express our concerns, either through the political process or otherwise?

  • David N. Friedman

    Yes, Charles–it is a bit more than merely “ironic” that embryonic stem cell research is getting all the attention. For almost 10 years now, we have been screaming for this folly to stop. Bush had it right and the Left only wants to prove Bush wrong–even if it means depriving people of medical funding that is productive.

    Obama came forward to immediately ignore the science–in the same way he is ignoring the science on global warming–to fund the killing of embryos because they simply want to stick it to former President Bush.

    This parade of insisting to be wrong on nearly everything is taking its toll. Obama can finally begin to be right about something and become a moderate President. Or he won’t.

    All the advances–all the medical cures are happening in adult stem cell research. It finally time to stop wasting money and start using it productively before all the cash is gone forever.

  • Raymond

    Maybe the real reason why the Orthodox Jewish leadership tends to tread lightly, not being too outspoken about the issues of the day in any general public forum, is well-grounded fear. Our people have been and continue to be hated with such violent, bloodthirsty intensity, that maybe it is better if we keep as low of a profile as possible.

    I can picture, for example, a skilled Rabbi almost effortlessly refuting the arguments put forth by Christians, Moslems, and Socialists. If people hate us Jews now, just imagine how much more we would be hated, after such refutations would be successfully advanced.

  • One Christian's perspective

    We live in a litigious society where copyrights, patents, trademarks, a “Name”, etc. allows and facilitates the method of obtaining some retribution for someone’s work being “stolen” for gain that is not transferred back to the creator of that work. As a society, we are so engrossed in the value of self that anything to protect self is deemed OK and if it dosen’t exist, we will legislate another law to bring it about. Yet, it seems that Biblical Truths are being turned around to justify some human endeavors and in arrogance we call it “good works”. Isn’t cloning nothing more than coveting God’s work to further our own self serving interests ? Isn’t abortion nothing more than murdering what God has created to satisfy individual goals and objectives ? These comments are not written as judgments or criticisms by intent even if they are viewed in that manner upon initial reading. No, I write out of awe of God and His view of the Ten Commandments and in the promises He has made to His children. Have we forgotten curses for disobedience while still desiring blessings for obedience ? Just because we can do something because of new technology doesn’t mean we must do something, does it ? Have we forgotten that God is the source of all blessings when He is foremost in all our decisions ? Why is it that the many applications of adult stem cells from living donors is yielding very encouraging results ? To my unscientific mind, I see that process as linking the best man has to offer with the greatest good God has made available for both the donor and the recipient in a way that glorifies God and furthers His Kingdom. Like a three legged stool, when ever part of the leg is removed, the stool falls down.

  • One Christian's perspective

    Maybe the real reason why the Orthodox Jewish leadership tends to tread lightly, not being too outspoken about the issues of the day in any general public forum, is well-grounded fear. Our people have been and continue to be hated with such violent, bloodthirsty intensity, that maybe it is better if we keep as low of a profile as possible.

    I can picture, for example, a skilled Rabbi almost effortlessly refuting the arguments put forth by Christians, Moslems, and Socialists. If people hate us Jews now, just imagine how much more we would be hated, after such refutations would be successfully advanced.

    Comment by Raymond

    Raymond, I appreciate your well worded and thought out comments. I can sense your fear based on past and current events… but, does this fear stop Jews from speaking to other Jews who are willing to listen. The same goes for Christians speaking to other Christians who are willing to listen. Yes, sorry to say, there are some very liberal churches that preach a different Gospel message.

    There has always been the killing of the messenger because of the message.

    How can anyone consider himself/herself part of the Kingdom of Priests of the Most High God and not speak His truths in love and not expect persecution. Even Israel’s Prophets were killed…….but, their message remains. That is because God’s Word is eternal and powerful.

    Do we let those who have the loudest voice because of the media shout out that their “truth” is wiser than the real truth that comes from a Holy God. Didn’t Esther hear similar words for a time such as this ?

  • Charlie Hall

    Bob Miller wrote,

    “Charles, do you feel we as Jews, and our organizations, should be concerned about unethical behavior in the non-government-funded sector regarding such matters?”

    Yes.

    There is no real reason to exempt non-governmentally funded research institutions from ethics mandates for human subjects research other than the anti-regulatory bias that has been prevalent in America for the past generation. People are shocked when I tell them that the ethics mandates for animal research are stronger than those for humans.

    “If so, what should we do to express our concerns, either through the political process or otherwise?”

    This is a difficult one, because in the US today there is minimal support for increased governmental regulation of much of anything other than institutions that receive government funds. But there are some things that *need* to be regulated and I think medical research is one of them.

    David N. Friedman wrote:

    “he is ignoring the science on global warming”

    To the contrary, it is the global warming deniers who are ignoring science. The earth has gotten warmer over the past 125 years. That is as much a fact as that yesterday the weather was cloudy in New York City.

    “to fund the killing of embryos because they simply want to stick it to former President Bush”

    President Bush’s unfortunate and unprecedented politicization of scientific research needed to be reversed, and this is a part of it. Furthermore, a lot of pro-Life political conservatives also support embryonic stem cell research. Do you really believe Bill Frist, Judd Gregg, Orrin Hatch, Trent Lott, Richard Lugar, Gordon Smith, and John Warner were trying to “stick it” to President Bush? All voted to overturn Bush’s ban three years ago.

    One Christian wrote:

    “Isn’t cloning nothing more than coveting God’s work to further our own self serving interests?”

    As indicated by the official position of the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of America that I posted earlier, pursuit of life-sustaining medical therapies, while possibly self-serving, is a Jewish value!

    “Isn’t abortion nothing more than murdering what God has created to satisfy individual goals and objectives?”

    Most abortions are indeed forbidden because we do not sacrifice a fetus to satisfy most individual goals — only to preserve the mother’s life.
    Nevertheless the normative Jewish position does not equate abortion to murder; the Torah itself provides for a fine rather than a death penalty for a person who assaults a pregnant woman, causing a miscarriage.

    “Why is it that the many applications of adult stem cells from living donors is yielding very encouraging results?”

    Because sometimes when one works very hard, with adequate research funding, results are indeed encouraging! With the new policy, more lines of research may be pursued, and HaShem willing, we will see even more favorable results. And hopefully the peer review process, unencumbered by political influence, will now facilitate the direction of resources to the most productive areas.

    (Full disclosure: While I do not personally do research on stem cells, some of my colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine do.)

    “there are some very liberal churches that preach a different Gospel message”

    As Jews, we do not favor one form of Christianity over another. And regarding abortion, neither the mainline Protestant pro-choice position or the Evangelical/Catholic pro-life position is consistent with Jewish teaching.

  • One Christian's perspective

    “to fund the killing of embryos because they simply want to stick it to former President Bush” – David N. Friedman

    Comment by Charlie Hall :
    President Bush’s unfortunate and unprecedented politicization of scientific research needed to be reversed, and this is a part of it. Furthermore, a lot of pro-Life political conservatives also support embryonic stem cell research. Do you really believe Bill Frist, Judd Gregg, Orrin Hatch, Trent Lott, Richard Lugar, Gordon Smith, and John Warner were trying to “stick it” to President Bush? All voted to overturn Bush’s ban three years ago.

    There is definitely a polarization of ideals in our nation. Pew Research has produced a study that reveals one segment of the polarization as seen between A) those in favor of government doing more to encourage morality in our nation and B) those in favor of government staying out of morality. I believe President Bush was trying to encourage morality and limit rampant immorality through Government spending and Government legislation. Government support for abortion was facilitated in the seed of the Supreme Court decision on Roe vs Wade and funded in subsequent years by funds distributed to Planned Parenthood. Once the abortion has been accomplished, the Government has forgotten the emotional and spiritual pain these women have suffered years afterward. (However, in the article “Coming to Terms”, there is a growing network of mothers support difficult birth choices. From one Nancy Mayer-Whittington “Life is about a relationship to God.” (Washington Times, may 10, 2009). Additionally, Government pressure on the banking industry to grant very high risk loans while maintaining a lack of over-sight by the Banking Commission brought about the elevation of greed to its highest standard in our nation and world-wide. In the long run and in both cases, those who the Government sought to help the most, were hurt the most.

    In response to your question concerning the voting for embryonic stem cell research by pro-life conservatives, I would ask were they voting as a “politician” running for re-election or as a pro-life conservative. In other words, did the walk match the talk ?

    Now, I am reminded of the age of the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. Which of the Kings of these Kingdoms brought back the worship of HaShem, reading of the Law and repentance, and the participation and celebration of the Feasts of the Lord ? Those decisions that were in-line with God’s will and Word were “moral” and they were initiated by the King – the ruling leader – who did not “do evil in the eyes of the LORD”. When this happened, there was peace and plenty. If morality doesn’t flow down from the leaders of a nation, the nation is doomed and its citizens will suffer. We may be an affluent nation but our citizens are suffering. The worse of the suffering is the idolatry that is promoted by Government policies and decisions that encourage the vulnerable to place their trust in big Government and not in God.

  • Michael

    This article addresses the decision made by President Obama (or perhaps more precisely by the NIH) to maintain some of the restrictions in place concerning federal funding for ESC research. As Rabbi Shafran notes, this decision contrasts with the view held by some supporters of ESC research that there is no moral issue surrounding ESC collection, and that any restrictions put in place represent a narrow ideological view. I would hope that many if not most supporters of ESC research recognize that there are moral issues involved, and that any decision in the matter must take multiple factors into consideration.
    However, the scientific issues raised about ESC research must not be conflated with the moral ones. The notion of limiting funding to adult stem cells because of their demonstrated therapeutic potential does not accurately portray the manner in which scientific research is conducted. A distinction must be made between translational research, which is more directly relevant therapeutically, and basic science research, which is more geared toward understanding the underlying mechanisms. It may be true that at the translational level, adult stem cell research is more solid at this stage. However, ESC certainly can already play a role in basic research, especially in the realm of tissue differentiation. And the understanding obtained through basic science research does lead to clinically useful applications, often in unanticipated ways. None of this addresses moral reasons for which one might oppose ESC research. But the claim that ESC research shows no indication of scientific value is unwarranted.

  • David N. Friedman

    To Charles Hall: I am pleased to correct the record and the misinformation. The entire debate over embryonic stem cell research is so unfortunate and so overloaded with false information.
    Much has changed since I entered this issue in about 2002. President Bush appointed the very fine Leon Kass to guide him through this issue and he was very well served and quickly came up with the correct policy–it now seems like such a long time ago when we had a government that could look at a topic and reach the correct conclusion by properly assessing all the facts.

    We knew at that time that research with adult stem cells was progressing beautifully and real advances were being made. By contrast, we were being pummeled with the threat that quick advances and miracle cures could only come with embryonic manipulations which destroyed embryos and we were told science was on the verge of unbelievable advances. Hearing those promises, we helped encourage President Bush to stand firm against going down that road since the inevitable result would be cloning. We sheepishly believed that what could be achieved with cord blood and all other forms of adult stem cells would be as good as the potential from dismembering embryos into their constituent parts.

    Now, after billions of dollars and 7 more long years–none of us would have predicted that the science of embryonic research would come up with literally nothing. If this kind of research is morally repugnant it is best to allow for the morally acceptable substitute. But if embryo destruction is also a complete waste of time and money from the perspective of its scientific value–the issue is very easy. Bush was not simply correct–he was correct exponentially. Obama–ignoring all of the results of this long emotional political battle–did not even look into the topic–he just did what he was told and signed the bill to continue the madness, accelerating the wasteful spending just when the country has no capacity for more waste.

    In the intervening seven years, more than 70 diseases have been made curable by research involving adult stem cells. The tally for diseases treated by embryonic stem cells–to the best of my knowledge–is zero. Are the politicians paying attention? Not really.

    When Charles Hall comes forward to proclaim that good people agree with Obama and support embryonic stem cell research–he is not forthcoming with the facts. It is true that even Republican senators have supported resolutions to use embryonic stem cells but they have done so in very limited terms. They have said that they support such research only when embryos are not killed and there is no cloning. Some like Sen. Frist are famous for standing up against the politicization of science as when Presidential Candidate John Edwards claimed that he could save Christopher Reeves’ life if he was made President. Frist really stood up for common sense, science and the Republican majority against those who wanted to take what is rightly a non-political issue and turn it into a political football. Now, Frist is depicted as somehow being an embryonic research supporter against the minority of “deniers.”

    Bush and Kass and our team correctly predicted that if we went down the road for embryos, we would be destroying embryos and making a market for additional embryos to be used specifically for research and cloning would quickly be on the table. Obama passed his resolution, ignoring the headlines that adult stem cells are saving more than 70 diseases, and the Dems are now in Congress right now asking for cloning. Predictions which are proven command respect. The Left is always wrong and yet they are in power with their failed predictions at the fore. Embryonic stem cells are still that supposed miracle we are right on the verge of achieving–just like it was claimed even more than 10 years ago.

    The OU is not paying attention.

  • Charles B. Hall

    David Friedman,

    Sen. Hatch cosponsored a bill that would have permitted somatic cell nuclear transplantation, commonly known as “therapeutic cloning”, banned reproductive cloning, and instituted federal oversight:

    This is the closest thing I’ve seen to the OU/RCA position; it is entirely possible that they lobbied in favor of this proposal. But most of the Right refused to support this. As a result, there remains no regulation of embryonic stem cell research by private laboratories in the US.

    You are correct that some proponents of stem cell research have engaged in hyperbole, and I deplore that. But could you please cite the seventy diseases that you say are curable today through adult stem cells?

  • David N. Friedman

    One Christian, I truly apologize for how some Jews respond to life issues. It is true that the traditional Christian community is pro-life and this pro-life position comes directly from Jewish sources. Jews are the original pro-life community and all the nuance and double talk perpetrated by modern Jews cannot change the reality.

    When Charles Hall says that the Christian position is not identical to the Jewish one–so what? He means to deflect and not answer the question–is 53 million abortions good or bad? To say that early term abortion may not be considered murder under Jewish law confounds the problem. And to defeat his assumption, having spoken to conservative Christian leaders–yes, they would be pleased and totally delighted to have the Jewish standard as the law of the land, as Jerry Falwell confided to me privately–that is, with the life of the mother respected (also rape and incest but that is not Jewish law.) Of course abortion is a moral wrong (unless a fetus is a direct threat to the life of the mother) and yes, current law cannot be justified under Jewish terms. Therefore, to ask what Jewish law says it much more meaningful than it is to search for how Jewish law differs from Christian theology.

    Charles Hall says that when one works hard and has some funding, results can be encouraging. The truth is that the results have been spectacular and revolutionary–grossly under reported because somehow, someway, scientific breakthroughs are now judged under leftist politicization to be either “correct” or “incorrect” breakthroughs. As if I am a patient in need of some medical breakthrough, I really care!! Michael has a point that I easily honor. The point here is that research for embryonic stem cells is a worldwide endeavor (Israel has sadly poured money into the effort, also coming up with nothing thus far)and the question concerns US Federal governmental funding. “On the verge” is a very boring 10 year promise,constantly repeated– and if people want to do this sort of thing, they will, despite the moral implications. As Jacques Elul observed, “man will do what man can do.” Governments should do what is known to produce results right now. Drug companies pour a lot of money into basic research–oftentimes, medical breakthroughs come about accidentally. The American taxpayer should not foot the bill for this kind of research since it is immoral and not producing results. When adult stem cell technology is working–it needs to be encouraged so we can help people right now. Billions spent for the HOPE of embryo-based technology is harming patients today when no hope is needed for effective stem-cells solutions now available. This administration has no handle on pragmatic or cost-effective calculations. Obama is all about ideology and we all suffer as a result.

    Global warming is disbelieved by the majority of Americans and most scientists are in general agreement that mankind cannot significantly change earth’s climate by tweaking the tiny amount of CO2 that is in the atmosphere. This is why global warming is far more hoax than science. Liberals have banned DDT, a fabulous chemical, while millions of Africans have died of malaria as a result. Liberals want our automobiles to be lighter and more dangerous so thousands MORE Americans will die because of their unscientific thinking. Liberal fantasies concerning science have literally killed millions worldwide.