(RNS) The nation's Orthodox Jews asked President Bush to allowfederally funded research on embryonic stem cells, becoming the thirdand last major Jewish group to support the controversial research. In a letter to Bush, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations ofAmerica and the Rabbinical Council of America said stem cell researchshould be allowed "under carefully crafted and well-monitoredguidelines." "If embryonic stem cell research can help us preserve and healhumans with greater success, and does not require or encourage thedestruction of life in the process, it ought to be pursued," the lettersaid. Both the Reform movement and the Conservative movement of Judaism,as well as the American Jewish Congress, also strongly support theresearch. Scientists want to take stem cells -- the basic building block ofall human tissue -- and search for cures for a number of debilitatingdiseases. The procedure is controversial because it involves destroyinga human embryo in order to harvest the stem cells. Religious groups are split on the issue. The nation's Catholicbishops are lobbying hard to oppose federally funded research, andseveral anti-abortion groups say the research is immoral. Other groups,however, say the promise for cures to diseases is too bright to ignore. The letter said frozen embryos originally intended for pregnancyshould be used for research if they "would otherwise be discarded." Butfor Orthodox Jews it is still murky whether other embryos should qualifyfor research, said Nathan Diament, director of public policy forOrthodox congregations.
Diament said he was unsure, for example, if people should be allowedto donate sperm and eggs solely to create embryos that will later bedestroyed as some have done. "That will certainly require more detailedguidelines and oversight," Diament said in an interview. The letter urged Bush to increase funding for research on stem cellstaken from adults, which has far broader support. They also said coupleswith unused embryos at fertility clinics need a "rigorous informedconsent process" before the embryos are used for science, and that Bushshould establish a federal oversight body to conduct periodic reviews.