Ethics expert endorses stem cell use in research

Steinberg: Jewish law doesn't recognize unimplanted human embryos as having a soul.

stem cells 88 (photo credit: )
stem cells 88
(photo credit: )
Prof. Avraham Steinberg - an ordained Orthodox rabbi, pediatric neurologist, Israel Prize laureate and medical ethics expert - has voiced support for using both superfluous embryonic stem cells left over from in-vitro fertilization and specially cloned human stem cells for curing diseases. Speaking this week at Bar-Ilan University's ceremony conferring honorary degrees, including one that he received, Steinberg said that unlike the Catholic Church, Jewish law does not recognize unimplanted human embryos from which stem cells are derived as having a soul and thus being unusable for medical research advancement and treatment. According to Catholic theology, a few-day-old embryo has a soul immediately after conception, so destroying it is "murder," said Steinberg. While Judaism has a number of views about the age after conception at which the fetus has "rights," most rabbinical views agree that it obtains "rights" only 40 days after implantation in the womb. In the lab, before implantation, the embryo has only a potential for human life, so these balls of cells can be used for extraction of stem cells for research and eventually saving lives from Parkinson's disease, type I diabetes and other disorders. Embryonic stem cells have great potential to cure serious diseases, he said. "If we succeed in finding the mechanism that tells the stem cell what other kind of cell to turn into, we will be able to turn them into dopamine-producing cells to cure Parkinson's and pancreatic beta cells to produce insulin and cure diabetes." While Steinberg did not voice support for "manufacturing" human beings using reproductive cloning, he did endorse the implantation of an adult human cell into an ovum that has had its contents removed to cause the egg to divide. Four or five days later, stem cells for creating healthy tissue are obtained, and the risk of rejection of tissues is eliminated.