Progressive Revival

Rabbi David Wolpe writes in Washington Post’s On Faith from the point of view of a cancer survivor and as a religious leader. From both vantage points he supports the president’s lifting of the ban on embryonic stem cell research.  His concise description of Judaism’s understanding of life is one of the most persuasive arguments I have read in support of pro-choice and end of life issues:

Judaism does not equate conception with life and indeed understands that there are ‘degrees’ of life. To take two clear examples: according to Jewish law, until a child is born, the life of the mother takes precedence over the unborn child. Judaism does not view the fetus as nothing, or negligible, but sees the mother’s as a full life, and the unborn child as something less than that before it emerges from the womb. A second example is the permissibility of administering pain medication to relieve excruciating pain even if an unintended byproduct might be to shorten life. That suggests that what we call “quality of life” has a deep resonance in my tradition.

So to use embryonic stem cells is not to facilitate murder. Rather it is to hold the promise of remedies that will enable those whose lives are diminished, ravaged, abbreviated, to hope for something better. To quote my brother, Dr. Paul Root-Wolpe, Director of the Ethics Center at Emory University, Judaism has a sense of the sacredness of place, and the idea that an embryo has a different moral status if it is an dish versus a womb seems to mirror most people’s commonsense notion of why they support stem cell research.

Rabbi Wolpe’s whole piece can be read here. 

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