Stem cell decision, contrasting religious views

From an AP Story:

President Barack Obama’s order Monday opening the door for federal taxpayer dollars to fund expanded embryonic stem cell research again brings those often colliding interests to the fore.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called Obama’s move "a sad victory of politics over science and ethics."

"This action is morally wrong because it encourages the destruction of innocent human life, treating vulnerable human beings as mere products to be harvested," Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, said in a statement.

On the other side is the Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a United Church of Christ minister and a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary.

"There is an ethical imperative to relieve suffering and promote healing," she said. "This is good policy for a religiously pluralistic society that cares about human suffering and the relief of human suffering."

Obama alluded to religion in announcing the changes, saying, "As a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and work to ease human suffering. I believe we have been given the capacity and will to pursue this research and the humanity and conscience to do so responsibly."

Some religious traditions teach that because life begins at conception, any research that destroys a human embryo, as this research does, is tantamount to murder and is never justified. The Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention are among those that oppose the research.

Other more liberal traditions, including mainline Protestant and Jewish institutions, believe the promise to relieve suffering is paramount. In 2004, the governing body of the Episcopal Church said it would favor the research as long as it used embryos that otherwise would have been destroyed, that embryos were not created for research purposes, or were not bought and sold.

Under Jewish law, an embryo is genetic material that does not have the status of a person. According to the Talmud, the embryo is "simply water" in the first 40 days of gestation. Healing and preserving human life takes precedence over all the other commandments in Judaism.

Some groups and faiths are divided on the issue. Muslims disagree over — among other things — whether an embryo in the early stage of development has a soul. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon church, has not taken a position.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, an evangelical pastor from Orlando, Fla., who serves on an Obama White House advisory panel, said he was encouraged by Monday’s developments.

"The principle is still that it’s not only understandable but in some ways moral to use embryonic stem cells that are destined for destruction for research for helping people," he said. "I think we have to tread very lightly and very carefully, and I think we have to be vigilant for years to come."

But most evangelicals criticized Obama’s move.

The Associated Press: Stem cell decision exposes religious divides

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