Though it divides Americans across the country, the debate over stem cell research has created a striking consensus in the Jewish community, which has largely united to oppose US President George W. Bush’s recent rejection of federal funding for the field.
Bush vetoed a bill last Wednesday that would have funded live embryonic stem cell research.
Currently, federal funding is only available for research involving embryonic cells that have been destroyed or that were collected prior to August 2001. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 would have allowed for the allocation of government funds toward research involving embryonic cells that had not yet been destroyed.
Jewish organizations across the US expressed dissatisfaction with Bush’s decision.
“Most, if not all, Jewish organizations who work on health care issues support stem cell research,” said Rachel Goldberg, director of senior advocacy at B’nai B’rith International. “It’s not unanimity, which I don’t think you have anywhere, but it’s as close as you can get in the Jewish community.”
The Orthodox Union, which often differs from other Jewish organizations on domestic issues, was also disappointed with the bill, although it did commend Bush’s executive order to support non-embryonic stem cell research.
Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said “the traditional Jewish perspective thus emphasizes that the potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life” and that “stem cell research is consistent with and serves these moral and noble goals.”
Bush cited the “value of life” as the very reason he vetoed the bill, saying that if the bill became law, “American taxpayers would for the first time in our history be compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos.”
According to Diament, the OU’s stance differs from that of the president in that “our views on this matter are shaped exclusively by the Jewish law and tradition’s teachings, [while] the president has his own set of ideas and considerations which shape his view.”
Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said the issue of embryonic stem cell research was one of “saving lives and curing disease.”
Barbara Weinstein, the Religious Action Center’s legislative director, said, “We are deeply saddened by President Bush’s decision to again stand in the way of embryonic stem cell research.”
Because the Jewish community is so broadly united on the issue, many feel there is a special opportunity to affect positive change in the stem cell debate. Jewish organizations have been active in speaking with members of Congress and White House staff on the issue.
Ultimately though, because the bill does not have the two-third support in Congress necessary to override a presidential veto, it is likely Bush’s decision will stand.
Still, many in the Jewish community remain optimistic. Goldberg cited the unanimity among the Jewish organizations as indication of a promising future for the stem cell issue, saying, “With that kind of consensus, we feel good going forward.”