Where does your religious beliefs end and mine begin?

By Cynthia Kramer

In response to March 17, 2004 political commentaries, I’d like to share a personal experience in our Missouri state capitol. I am a 39-year-old mother of two sons, 12 and 7, with a rare form of lymphoma. Currently, my only option for cure is an auto stem cell transplant that has a cure rate of 30%. Recently I traveled to Jefferson City, Missouri with a group of 30 women from the St. Louis Chapter of Hadassah. The purpose of our trip was to talk to our local legislators about a variety of issues important to Hadassah and the Jewish community. This included support for advanced medical research called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT).

I spoke with the Chief of Staff for Senator Bartle, sponsor of SB765, the Anti-Human Cloning Bill. I explained my situation, how advanced medical research could possibly one day save my life, and informed him that while Hadassah agrees that human cloning should be banned, the bill in question was vague and really needed an inclusion to allow advanced medical research, such as (SCNT).

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SCNT is a process by which the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell is removed and replaced with the material from the nucleus of a somatic cell, like a skin, heart or nerve cell. Once the cell begins dividing, the stem cells can be extracted 5-6 days later and used for research. SCNT is NOT human cloning. The aim of human cloning is to create human beings by cloning human embryos. The goal of SCNT is to produce life-saving stem cells.

The response given was that “while this may be a hard pill for me to swallow” Senator Bartle and his supporters must vote their conscience on this issue. Their Christian interpretation is that SCNT is equal to destroying human life. I respectfully listened to his position, yet explained to him that as a Jewish woman, my faith does not share the Christian interpretation. All denominations of Judaism strongly believe in and support this advanced medical research. Judaism does not see SCNT as harming life, but rather as having the potential to save lives. I then asked him where his religious freedom began and where mine ended. There was no answer.

My next visit to Speaker of the House Catherine Hanaway was no better. Five bishops had phoned that day urging her to support this ban. I had to ask myself where was the voice of my people? Where are the rabbis? I, also, encountered the Concerned Women For America. This well-oiled fundamentalist grass-roots group routinely visits and lobbies at the State capitol. Their literature, accepted by the government officials, encouraged them to vote along Church and Christian lines, or “God’s vengeance would be upon them.”

In Missouri, there are bills being discussed that include “Intelligent Design” (creationism), forgiving pharmacists from filling prescriptions based on “moral judgments,” and denying valuable lifesaving research based upon religion. Where is the separation of church and state? Where is the reminder that people of faith believe in that separation? Where is the voice of the minority reminding us that this country’s very founding principles stand for protecting the rights of that minority? Most of all, where is our Jewish community? We must write, call or visit Jefferson City and maintain this dialogue on a national level

Together we can continue the 350-year tradition of Jews exercising their rights as Americans. In 1790, President Washington sent letters to the Jewish community assuring them of their equality in America. This cannot exist today if we lose the wall that keeps government from the dictates of any one religion.

Cynthia Kramer is a board member of the St. Louis Jewish Light. This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Jewish Light.