Different faiths, different views on stem cells
The nation's three largest denominations oppose federal funding for research, but other groups voice support.
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To families awaiting the potential benefits from embryonic research, Mr. Hanson says, "My father has Parkinson's and diabetes, and my mother has Alzheimer's - so I understand what it means to grasp at any hope. But it's also important not to confuse one strategy with the goal."Skip to next paragraph
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Not all opposing churches share the Catholic and Southern Baptist view that a human person is created at the moment of conception.
But they say early human life deserves moral respect, and therefore this strategy requires deep ethical exploration.
Lutheran ethicist Gilbert Meilander argues that the moral reasoning fundamental to "just war" is pertinent to the stem-cell debate. In this reasoning, a "supreme emergency" must be present both to go to war and to use strategies that otherwise would be ethically unacceptable.
In an essay in the January Hastings Center Report, he elaborates on why this situation does not represent such an emergency, since the end does not justify the means when other reasonable strategies are available.
It's not just this decision that is at stake, opponents say. "Once you step off this cliff, you are in free fall," says Dr. Land. "If it's all right to kill babies to get tissue for research, then how do you say you can't create babies for the sole purpose of killing them?"
Baptists, he adds, base their view on biblical statements such as that in Jeremiah, "where God says, 'Before you were in your mother's womb I knew you....' "
When life begins
Supporters of the research disagree that embryos less than two weeks old, which are those used to harvest stem cells, are human persons. The Reform Jewish movement wrote the president last week supporting federal funding, based on the "primary responsibility to save human life" and "an estimated 128 million Americans afflicted with conditions that may benefit."
Richard Address, director of family concerns for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, says Jewish tradition holds that "a fetus less than 40 days old is not considered a human being" and "that God has given us this power to create these technologies." Conservative Jews also support the research, while the Orthodox do not.
Some Muslim jurists differ over whether "ensoulment" takes place in 40 or 120 days, Abdulaziz Sachedina, professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, told a recent public forum. Stem-cell research is acceptable in Islamic law, he added, due to its therapeutic benefits.
The Presbyterian Church USA passed a resolution last month in support of the research.
Yet most religious groups see the necessity for setting limits and for greater oversight of both public and private research. "We draw limits in other areas, such as biological and nuclear weapons," Hanson says. "One standard is when something affects all humanity - and we're just one step from making permanent changes in the human genome."
The US Congress is now considering bills that would ban human cloning, including in some cases, cloning for research purposes. Some in the Senate are preparing legislation to support stem-cell research should the president not approve the regulations he is considering.
Sen. Bill Frist (R) of Tennessee, who is anti-abortion and close to the president, has proposed a compromise on embryonic stem-cell research that would fund it under very strict guidelines and create a strong public oversight system.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor