Stem cell research and religion

US News writer, Dan Gilgoff, of God and Country, and on The Lead’s blogroll, reports:

Conservative Christian groups are up in arms over President Barack Obama’s executive order lifting former President George W. Bush’s limits on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, but not all religious denominations and organizations are against it. Among those the White House invited to [the] signing ceremony: religious leaders, mostly of the Jewish and mainline Christian variety.

Here’s the faith-based guest list for [the] White House event:

– Maureen Shea, Episcopal Church USA, Director of Government Relations

– James Winkler, United Methodist Church, Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society

– Rabbi Steve Gutow, Jewish Council for Public Affairs

– Rev. Welton Gaddy, Interfaith Alliance

– Nancy Ratzan, National Council of Jewish Women

– Nathan Diament, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations

– Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism

Maureen Shea, Director of the Office of Government Relations says in an interview with Episcopal Cafe:

Based on the report and recommendation of its Ethics and New Genetics Task Force, the 2003 General Convention passed a resolution supporting human embryonic stem cell research. We believe this research will expand our knowledge of God’s creation and empower us to bring potential healing to those who suffer from disease or disability. We therefore welcome President Obama’s signing of an executive order lifting the ban on embryonic stem cell research and asking the National Institutes of Health to propose new guidelines for this important research.

The Episcopal Church stance on stem cell research is found in resolution #2003-A014 from General Convention:

Resolved, That the 74th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, believing that a wider availability of embryonic stem cells for medical research holds the potential for discovery of effective treatment of a wide variety of diseases and other medical conditions;

(A) Support the choice of those who wish to donate their early embryos, remaining after in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures have ended; and

(B) Urge that the United States Congress pass legislation that would authorize federal funding for derivation of and medical research on human embryonic stem cells that were generated for IVF and remain after fertilization procedures have been concluded, provided that:

these early embryos are no longer required for procreation by those donating them and would simply be discarded;

those donating early embryos have given their prior informed consent to their use in stem cell research;

the embryos were not deliberately created for research purposes;

the embryos were not obtained by sale or purchase; and be it further

Resolved, That the 74th General Convention of The Episcopal Church urge the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish an interdisciplinary oversight body for all research in both the public and private sectors that involves stem cells from human embryos, parthenotes, sperm cells, or egg cells, and have this body in place within six months of passing such legislation; and be it further

Resolved, That the 74th General Convention of The Episcopal Church direct the Secretary of General Convention to communicate this resolution to appropriate members and committees of the United States Congress and direct the Office of Government Relations to identify and advocate the legislation called for by this resolution.

Read more news on stem cell research below:

Gilgoff also reports:

I wrote that most Americans support embryonic stem cell research. But I was struck that a recent Pew poll on the subject indicated just a bare majority of support, with 51 percent of Americans saying it’s more important to conduct stem cell research that might lead to new cures than to avoid destroying human embryos.

So it’s striking to look at a 2008 poll that Gallup has dusted off that finds moral objections to embryonic stem cell research are relatively slack. It shows that more than 6 in 10 Americans say that the research is moral, while just 3 in 10 say it’s morally wrong. Read the full Gallup report here.

The Washington Post features the religious divides in opinion and doctrine concerning stem cell research in light of the lifting of the ban by President Obama:

The embryonic stem cell research debate is steeped with religious arguments, with some faith traditions convinced the research amounts to killing innocent life, others citing the moral imperative to alleviate suffering, and plenty of religious believers caught somewhere in between.

President Barack Obama’s order Monday opening the door for federal taxpayer dollars to fund expanded embryonic stem cell research again brings those often colliding interests to the fore.

The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a United Church of Christ minister and a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary says:

“There is an ethical imperative to relieve suffering and promote healing. This is good policy for a religiously pluralistic society that cares about human suffering and the relief of human suffering.”

On the other side of the debate, Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, called Obama’s move “a sad victory of politics over science and ethics.”

The Boston Globe reports more religious commentary here.

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