Feature

Stem Cells

Challenging the ‘Bush rules.’

Someone tell President Bush 'œwhat year it is,' said The Philadelphia Inquirer in an editorial. In 2001, Bush interrupted a monthlong summer vacation to issue a bizarre directive on embryonic stem-cell research. In a sop to his evangelical base, Bush banned federal funding for most stem-cell work, which scientists think might one day provide breakthrough treatments for Parkinson's disease, paralysis, even cancer. The president allowed funding only for a handful of stem-cell lines already developed. Now the Senate wants to relax those 'œBush rules' ever so slightly'”allowing funding for research on unused embryos currently sitting in cold storage in fertility clinics. The public overwhelmingly supports such research, but Bush says he'll issue his first-ever veto to keep these embryos out of the reach of science. Bush's stubbornness on this issue is mystifying, said The Washington Post. More than 400,000 embryos sit unused in fertility clinics. How can it be more moral to throw them out, when they offer 'œhope for saving actual, not potential, human life'?

That's a Trojan horse argument, said National Review. It's become clear in recent years that stem cells harvested from frozen embryos have limited scientific value. What stem-cell researchers really want is a green light to clone embryos en masse, so they have a limitless supply of stem cells. But the idea of such 'œfetal farming' still appalls most Americans, so the Senate's bill is designed as a half-step, 'œto pave the way' for more 'œnoxious' research. The more we learn about the science of stem cells, said Eric Cohen and William Kristol in The Weekly Standard, the more obvious it is that Bush was right. Promising research is now underway on stem cells derived from adults or from umbilical cord blood. Some of these alternatives may in fact prove scientifically superior to using stem cells extracted from embryos. But even if that weren't the case, the federal government should still 'œnot be a party to the destruction of nascent human lives.'

That's easy for you to say, said Jonathan Turley in USA Today. If you really want to see this debate come into focus, try having a relative develop Parkinson's disease, as happened to my father. Watching a loved one suffer, you very quickly lose patience with the faith-based moral philosophers who would claim to perceive no substantial difference between a living, breathing, suffering human being and a tiny, insensible 'œmass of cells.' For me and millions of other Americans, the debate over stem cells 'œis not about abstractions.'

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