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April 05, 2005

Orthodoxy and Public Policy

The current issue of Tradition is devoted to Orthodoxy and its role in influencing public policy. Meir Soloveitchik, who carries a heavy burden with that last name, contributes a short essay about bioethics. In light of the Terri Schiavo case and the discussion of the "culture of death," his quoting of Rabbi Norman Lamm's investiture address at YU is worth reprinting:

That learning must be more than knowledge, that it must enhance life, was expressed in a startlingly poignant way by the Zohar (a major Jewish mystical text -ed)...The Biblical Tree of Knowledge, it taught, possessed within it yet another tree...the Tree of Death. When man combines knowledge and life, he is capable of suppressing the Tree of Death. But if he pursues knowledge alone, unconcerned...with human compassion and love and gentleness - he releases the noxious Tree of Death in all its many and ugly manifestations.

Soloveitchik goes on to give a number of examples of medical technologies that might be permitted purely on a cost-benefit basis, in terms of the lives they might save, but which are or ought to be forbidden on public policy grounds.

While organ sales are clearly forbidden even halachically, other technologies are less obvious. Unimplanted embryos have no status in halacha. But creating them for the sole purpose of harvesting their stem cells cheapens our respect for life. The strict rule of halacha can and should be tempered by considerations of what kind of society would result.

It's a fascinating article, rigorously argued, by the latest Soloveitchik generation, working on getting his sea legs.

Posted by joshuasharf at April 5, 2005 07:38 PM | TrackBack

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