WASHINGTON (AP) -- Religious leaders are split over Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's decision to reverse course and support more federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Richard Land, head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he was "brokenhearted" by Frist's announcement last week. "I could not disagree with him more," Land said.
Roman Catholic Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, who leads the American bishops' Committee for Pro-life Activities, called the senator's reasoning "disturbing."
"Such destruction of innocent human life, even out of a desire to help others, rests on a utilitarian view that undermines human dignity," Keeler said.
The Catholic Church teaches that life begins once a sperm and egg unite, and evangelical Protestant leaders generally agree. Taking embryonic stem cells destroys embryos.
However, Frist won support from both the Orthodox and Reform Jewish communities.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism said other senators should follow Frist's lead and "stop stonewalling" on channeling money to researchers. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America welcomed Frist's decision and said the government should expand funding, while creating panels of scientists and bioethicists to monitor the research.
Although not all Jewish ethicists agree on embryonic stem cell research, Jewish law does not consider a fetus a person until birth, and saving a life is among the most important duties for Jews. Frist, a heart-lung transplant surgeon, said he based his decision not just on faith, but on science.