Perhaps the area where the president is most beholden to the religious right, and the area of my greatest disagreement with him, is where the pro-life extreme bleeds into stem cell research policy. I have no logical problem with those who are pro-life: I may disagree with them, but I totally understand and am sympathetic to the notion that all human life is precious and inviolate. I happen to think the privacy and self-determination rights of the woman should appropriately hold legal precedence over the rights of non-viable fetus, but I understand their moral position.
However, stem cell research isn’t causing anything to be done – it is simply making use of “materials” already at hand through the legal abortion process to be used in the pursuit of treatment of diseases and conditions of “fully realized,” actual, real life people.
Michael Kinsley points out the absurdity of the Bush position, especially as posited by Laura Bush:
- As Laura Bush put it, George Bush “is the only president to ever authorize federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.” She noted that “few people know” this. Few may have known it, but many might have guessed. It is true indeed that Bush’s predecessors, from George Washington to Bill Clinton, failed to fund embryonic stem cell research. Even Abraham Lincoln. Not a penny for stem-cell research from any of them. Historians believe this might have been because it didn’t exist yet. But that’s just a guess.
George Bush gave this nascent research a tiny sliver of money and piled on a smothering load of restrictions. As Laura Bush did not note, that makes Bush the only president ever to authorize federal rules against stem cell research.
….The purpose of Bush’s stem cell policy is to discourage medical research using embryos. Bush is supposed to think that these clumps of a few dozen cells are every bit as human as the people who will suffer or die from diseases that stem cells could cure. He had better believe that, because stem-cell research uses embryos being discarded by fertility clinics and doesn’t actually add to the embryonic death toll at all. Only a deep conviction about the humanity of these microscopic dots — which have fewer human characteristics than a potato — could justify sacrificing real human lives to make the purely symbolic point that these dots are human too.
Scientists are in agreement that Bush’s policy is succeeding. Stem cell research has been drastically slowed. Yet Bush surrogates now pretend that the policy’s real success is its failure to stop this research completely. Hey! You’re supposed to think all those embryos being used in privately funded research are human victims, remember? It’s a huge tragedy, remember? Stop bragging about it.
In a display of her husband’s famous compassionate conservatism, Laura Bush scolded that “it really isn’t fair to people who are watching a loved one suffer” to overplay the promise of stem cells. She said, helpfully, “We don’t know that stem cell research will provide cures for anything.”
As someone with a loved one (myself, as it happens) who has the disease (Parkinson’s) for which stem cells hold the most promise, please allow me to say: Thank you so much, Mrs. Bush, for trying to make sure that I don’t get too hopeful. While your husband and Sen. John Kerry make a major issue out of who is more optimistic, it is inspiring to have a first lady with the courage to say: Let’s be pessimistic! Optimism is unfair! [Washington Post]
The problem for Bush is that any give on the “life begins at conception” mantra is perceived as a step toward accepting the moral legitimacy of abortion, just as the radical pro-choice feel any restrictions on abortion is likewise a slippery slope toward back alley abortions by drunken veterinarians with rusty scalpels. A modicum of common sense would improve the postions of each extreme.