Obama stem cell order unites Jewish groups

Monday, March 9th, 2009

James Besser in Washington

Update: The Insider apparently wasn’t inside enough; also present at the White House stem cell signing was Rabbi Steve Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA)

The Jewish community from right to left was represented at  Monday’s White House ceremony marking President Barack Obama’s executive order rescinding his predecessors strict limits on stem cell research.

The Jewish delegation at the gathering included Nathan Diament, public policy director for the Orthodox Union, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Marla Gilson, Washington representative for Hadassah.

Opposition to stem cell research runs strong on the Christian right, but even Jewish groups like the OU that share some of that faction’s views on “social values” issues supported lifting the ban because of the potential benefits in medical research.

“The Torah commands us to treat and cure the ill and to defeat disease wherever possible,” Diament said in a statement. “To do this is to be the Creator’s partner in safeguarding the created. The traditional Jewish perspective thus emphasizes that the potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life. Stem cell research is consistent with and serves these moral and noble goals.”

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Washington director for Agudath Israel of America, said his group has taken no position on the political questions surrounding stem cell research, but that “rabbinic opinion on this issue generally favors the use of stem cells for research purposes. However, within that concept there are moral parameters we must adhere to.”

“The enthusiasm among this diverse group of political, medical and religious leaders was as palpable as any signing I have attended,” said Saperstein in a statement. “Opening new cell lines for study and providing funding opportunities for this research greatly increases the prospects of developing treatments and cures for debilitating conditions such as breast and prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and spinal cord injury.”

Hadassah’s Marla Gilson said her group is “thrilled with the decision. But more needs to be done.”

Among the items on Hadassah’s to-do list: getting Congress to pass a law “codifying this executive order, since executive orders can be repealed by the next president.”

Congress has passed legislation legalizing research twice in recent years, only to have it vetoed by former President George W. Bush. Here’s a daring prediction: this time that won’t be a problem.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.