In giving government support to promising research utilizing stem cells, which can enhance the life and health of millions of Americans, President Obama has shown not just political courage, but a moral vision that resonates with deep religious reverence for life.
This decision resonates with the Jewish tradition, in which preserving life and promoting health are among the most precious of values. Indeed, almost any law must be broken to save a human life (a doctrine known as "pikuach nefesh," "saving a soul"). Our tradition requires that we use all available knowledge to heal the ill, and "when one delays in doing so, it is as if he has shed blood" (Shulchan Aruch, Yorei De`ah 336:1--the authoritative 16th century code of Jewish Law).
These values have informed our affirmative commitment to medical science throughout the ages. Judaism has always encouraged the use of our God-given wisdom for scientific and medical advances. It was thus encouraging that President Obama set this decision in a broader commitment to reform executive branch science policy, making clear his administration's commitment to root science policy in science fact no matter what the administration's ideology, rather than rooting its science policy in ideology no matter what the science facts.
Today, stem cell research holds promise to repair and regenerate human tissue, nerve cells, and skin cells. Such lifesaving medical therapy depends on the extensive scientific research upon which our contemporary practice of medicine is based. Since research into human stem cells partakes of the mitzvah (commandment) of healing, surely our society ought to support it.
Federal support for such research holds out the potential to improve dramatically the lives and futures of as many as 100 million Americans who currently suffer from an array of debilitating diseases and conditions. For this reason, support for the President's action is not just rooted in abstract moral reasoning but is of deep personal meaning to all those Americans who themselves, or whose loved ones, suffer from diseases and conditions for which therapeutic stem cell research holds tremendous promise for finding a cure or treatment: breast cancer and prostate cancer, leukemia, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, Huntington's Chorea - and Alzheimer's disease, from which both of my remarkable parents suffered in the end. So it is not surprising that the polls show most Americans support this action.
By expanding the current number of stem cell lines available for federally funded research we will provide hope to those in need and fulfill our obligation as faithful Americans to work to heal the sick. The President's action this week will do much to ensure that the federal government helps, rather than hinders, that process.