February 24, 2004
Society today stands on the threshold of a new era in biomedical research. The wisdom granted to humans by our Creator has led to our greater understanding and knowledge of the building blocks of human life itself. Scientists revealed the existence and role of DNA and cellular science many years ago. Currently, scientists are not only able to describe the nature of cellular life, but manipulate it as well. Scientists now believe that embryonic stem cells — cells derived from the inner cell mass of developing embryos — hold the promise of treating many life threatening conditions because they have demonstrated the capacity to develop into healthy organ tissue which could potentially replace that which has been destroyed by aging or disease.
A debate has emerged in American society at large and among our elected leaders as to whether public policy should permit, encourage, restrict or ban the further conduct of this biomedical research. The issue is one with complex moral dimensions. On the one hand scientific research indicates that there is great life-saving potential in the results that can come from therapeutic cloning research also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) technology. In this technique the nucleus of an unfertilized egg cell is removed and replaced with the genetic material from the nucleus of a somatic cell (any cell of the body except sperm or egg
cells). The egg is then stimulated to begin dividing, and stem cells can be extracted 5-6 days later. When the somatic cell is supplied from the cells of a given person, the stem cells isolated from the developing eggs can be used to make a tissue that will not be rejected by that person’s immune system because they contain his or her own genetic material.
In using this technology, we must be vigilant against any erosion of the value that society accords to human life. Jewish law and tradition places great value upon human life; we are taught in the opening chapters of Genesis that each human was created in God’s image. After creating man and woman, God empowered them to enter a partnership with God in the stewardship of the world. The Torah commands us to treat and cure the ill and to defeat disease wherever possible; to do this is to be the Creator’s partner in safeguarding the created. The traditional Jewish perspective thus emphasizes that maximizing the potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life. Moreover, our tradition states that an embryo in vitro does not enjoy the full status of human-hood and its attendant protections. Thus, if stem cell research advances our ability to heal humans with greater success, it ought to be pursued since it does not require or encourage the destruction of life in the process.
We must be careful to distinguish between cloning for therapeutic purposes–which ought to be pursued–and cloning for reproductive purposes–which is not addressed by this resolution. Thus, this research must be conducted under strict guidelines and with strict limitations to ensure that the research is indeed serving therapeutic purposes.
We believe that the policy stated herein articulates the perspective of Judaism and the communities we represent and achieves the correct balance between pursuing new methods for saving human lives and maintaining the fundamental respect and sanctity of human life.
THEREFORE, the JCPA resolves to:
- Research using somatic gene therapy;
- Research using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) technology for therapeutic cloning; and
- Government funding for all such research;
- Oppose efforts to restrict or penalize scientists, clinicians, or patients for participating in stem cell research and SCNT technology for therapeutic purposes;
- Support appropriate legislative and executive actions consistent with the above objectives, including legislation that encourages the development of new stem cell lines, in addition to the existing stem cell lines already approved for funding by the federal government the creation of a fully funded and empowered oversight body comprised of scientists and ethicists to monitor this research, paying special attention to ensuring that the research is restricted to embryos of very early embryonic development;
- Support efforts by the scientific community to develop regulations and monitor those using SCNT technology.