So the Washington Post once again has a blurb about Jews and morality and ethics. You can find the blurb here.
Essentially the point is to present Jews, specifically Orthodox Jews, as being in direct opposition to the President and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (a man whose ethical behavior is also very much in question) on the issue of stem cell research. The President and Congressman DeLay take the right-wing Christian, Evangelical stance against the use of leftover human embryos from in-vitro fertilizations (IVF) as morally repugnant, evil, and wrong. Interestingly Eric Cohen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, writes in an article in the National Review that the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations has come out with an endorsement of the Castle-DeGette bill (H.R. 810) but that such an endorsement is (in Mr. Cohen’s own words) “disingenuous” and “morally unconvincing” and “irresponsible.”
I must admit that Mr. Cohen makes a very good case for his position however I am inclined to think that his position is not based on the an objective point of view but rather a subjective one. He appears to project his own conservative perspective on the issue (which is very much in line with President Bush and the conservatives) rather than stepping back and looking at the moral and ethical issues on a larger scale. Mr. Cohen appears to accept the Evangelical Christian-right’s (and the Roman Catholic) opinion that life begins at conception and that the embryos should be afforded the same rights and protections as a full-fledged grown individual. But in taking that very position he embraces the position that grown individuals are not deserving of the same protections as the unborn. Consider that his position (and that of the religious right) unconciously says to those who are suffering from diseases that might be cured by stem-cell research that their suffering is inconsequential relative to the potential life of the embryo. He couches his arguments in references to Jewish law and tradition and says that it is irresponsible for Judaism to

seek the fruits of modern science without confronting the facts modern biology — which demonstrates, beyond reasonable doubt, that the embryo is a complete human organism from the moment of conception, with purposeful division and development from the very beginning

How has modern science proven that a cluster of cells is already a complete human organism from the moment of conception? It, to my knowledge, has not demonstrated that conclusively. We know that the cell cluster does begin purposeful division but does that mean that it is a “complete human organism?” If so, then Mr. Cohen has managed to extend the definition of human further than any philospher or thinker in the past 5000 years. Truly an astounding feat! But unconvincing. The embryos being discussed here are incapable of survival outside the womb (clearly something that a full-grown individual is capable of) because they are so early on in the developmental stage. Modern science has not, in my mind proven conclusively that life begins at conception. How do they know that the embryo will not become an anencephalic baby? How do they know that the embryo will not die somehow in-utero? How can they be 100%, absolutely sure, that the embryo is a full human being who should be protected and given the opportunity to grow. The embryo represents human potential but not full human being.
He further argues that we as Orthodox Jews must also consider the moral guideposts in light of the cirumstances. He states

the Jewish sages of the past can offer us moral guideposts — things to revere and things to avoid — that we must wisely apply in light of current knowledge and current circumstances. This means not only considering the act in itself — embryo destruction — but the environment in which the act will be committed, and by whom. And I think it is fair to say that most stem-cell biologists — those in the laboratories destroying embryos — donít revere God and Torah the way most Orthodox Jews do.

Ah, so because the stem-cell biologist who works in the lab might not be God fearing and Torah-observant then that should be sufficient to deny stem-cell research as well. That should be enough to deny the possibility of ending the suffering of people or even saving lives because the stem-cell biologists are not God-fearing or Torah observant. This is a non-issue for Orthodox Jews.
At the end, Mr. Cohen tries to appeal to the traditional Democratic, left-wing leanings of Jews. He states:

And when it comes to the Castle-DeGette bill, Jews seem to have forgotten even the minimal liberal wisdom of tolerance — the wisdom of not trampling on the moral opinions of their fellow citizens, like pro-life Christians, who believe embryo destruction is not only evil but the gravest evil.

So now we must also taken into consideration political perspectives? We must be tolerant and consider the pro-life Christian perspective. He seems to indicate that we (that is Orthodox Jews through the OU) are being inconsiderate and insensitive regarding our Christian neighbors. In this he couches his argument in a light similar to John Stuart Mills concept of the “Tyranny of the Majority.” Interestingly enough wasn’t it the Christian-right (who oppose stem-cell research) who helped Bush get a majority of the vote in 2004? Therefore wouldn’t the President and his Christian-right pro-life supporters be the majority and the OU and its position on stem-cell research the minority. So in reality Cohen is saying that the minority should look towards its traditional liberalistic teachings of tolerance and simply accept the majority’s opinion on the whole issue. In essence the majority pro-life Christian right (and Mr. Cohen) are the majority and they are the ones who are being tyrannical.
He continues:

As Jews, donít we owe our fellow citizens the minimal decency of not asking them to pay for the activity that most offends them?

And don’t they, the pro-life Christian right, owe US the minimal decency of not asking us to pay for activities that most offends us? Things like the President’s Faith-Based initiative which can be used to prosylatize to Jews in an effort to convert them to Christians? Should we Jews be forced to pay for that with our tax dollars?
Finally, Mr. Cohen writes:

The Bush policy that the Orthodox Union seeks to overturn, one must remember, does not fund embryo research or ban embryo research; its practical effect is ultimately neutral

True the policy does not fund embryo research or ban embryo research. It only limits that research to pre-existing stem-cell lines. However, that limitation prevents the scientists from expanding their knowledge, of exploring all the possibilities that new stem-cell lines may hold in curing disease or saving lives. In essence Mr. Cohen and President Bush’s policy condemn millions to death and suffering to ease their own conscience because they have decided that they, not God, have determined when life begins.

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