Rabbi group backs stem cell drive

BY KEREN DOUEK, ASSISTANT EDITOR

The St. Louis Rabbinical Association voted unanimously at its June 6 meeting to support the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative that will be on the November ballot.

The initiative — which has received the signatures of almost 200,000 Missouri residents — would “ensure Missouri patients have access to any therapies and cures, and allow Missouri researchers to conduct any research, permitted under federal law; ban human cloning or attempted cloning; require expert medical and public oversight and annual reports on the nature and purpose of stem cell research; impose criminal and civil penalties for any violations; and prohibit state or local governments from preventing or discouraging lawful stem cell research, therapies and cures.”

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The Rabbinical Association’s resolution in support of the initiative states:

“We the St. Louis Rabbinical Association, a non-profit professional organization with member rabbis from all Judaic movements, hereby proclaim our support for the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, which clearly protects the right of Missouri patients to have their diseases and injuries treated with any stem cell interventions that are allowed by federal law and available to other Americans … Whereas, all branches of Judaism have come forward in public statements to support all forms of stem cell research and specifically SCNT and embryonic stem cell research and to develop responsible regulations to safeguard against potential scientific abuse; and, Whereas, Jewish tradition and Jewish law command us to treat and care for the ill and to defeat disease wherever possible and affirms that an undifferentiated blastocyst (early embryo) not yet implanted in the womb does not enjoy the status of personhood and its attendant protections.”

Rabbi Mark Shook of Temple Israel, a member of the Rabbinical Association, said ethical questions raised by bio-medical research are worthy of study and discussion, but that theological questions are another matter entirely.

“When religions clash on questions of belief or a hierarchy of value, i.e. ‘When does life begin?’ Or ‘Does an actual living human life take precedence over a potential human life?’ there should be no federal state or local attempt to answer such questions by siding with one religious perspective over another,” he said. “That amounts to religious coercion.”

Connie Farrow of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures said the coalition was pleased to learn of the Rabbinical Association’s resolution and to have the Rabbinical Association among its growing list of supporting members and organizations, but were already well-aware that the association was supporting them and their cause.

The partial list on the website of the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures of more than 50,000 members, lists under civic, business, community and faith leaders, Lynn Lyss, past president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis; Robert A. Cohn, editor in chief emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light; Rabbi Mark Fasman of Shaare Zedek; Rabbi Jeffrey Stiffman, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare Emeth; Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation; and Rabbi Joshua Taub of Temple Emanuel.

Keren Douek is an assistant editor and can be reached at [email protected]

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