Moral Boundary or More Ol’ Politics?

Stahler cartoon on stem cell research

This past Wednesday, for the very first time in his presidency, George W. Bush exercised a power that many thought he might never utilize. Contrary to what you might think or hope, it was neither common sense nor self-restraint. It was a veto, as the President refused to sign off on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, which had previously been approved by both the Senate (63-37) and the House of Representatives (238-194). In putting the kibosh on the legislation, Mr. Bush—who is to scientific progress what Fox News is to journalistic integrity—offered the following reasoning: “This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it.� The good news, of course, is that the President is actually aware that there is a moral boundary. The bad news is that waging a preemptive war that takes innocent human life, infringing upon the civil liberties of innocent Americans, and ignoring the laws of the land somehow do not manage to cross that moral boundary. That’s some boundary. Fortunately, the incomparable Jon Stewart is around to poke fun at the Prez and poke holes in his reasoning, as posted here on the Crooks and Liars website. On the more serious side, the Philadelphia Inquirer offers the following fine editorial on Bush’s veto, offered here in full:

Thwarting the public will

When President Bush vetoed the DeGette-Castle bill on embryonic stem-cell research Wednesday, he surrounded himself with children. The real point was who wasn’t there.

There was no one suffering from Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s sufferers? Nowhere. Also absent was anyone with myasthenia gravis, leukemia, liver disease, or dozens of ailments that someday may be treatable thanks to research employing human embryonic stem cells.

The veto leaves in place the silly 2001 Bush restrictions on federal funds for research using embryonic stem cells. So ESC-derived treatments may be hamstrung further. The people they could help? Tough.

The beautiful children surrounding Bush were “snowflake” children, born from frozen embryos and adopted. The purported point: Don’t waste embryos in scientific research – use them to produce unique human lives (thus the term “snowflake”).

But the veto won’t lead to fewer embryos being destroyed.

The bill would have extended funding to research using discarded embryos from fertility clinics. Thousands of embryos that could have been used in research will now simply be thrown away, thanks to the president’s principled pen.

Bush correctly identified the question: Is it right to balance the (supposed) rights of human embryos against the possible (and not yet known) benefits of embryonic stem-cell research? A wrenching dilemma: human embryos vs. human suffering. Despite Bush’s characteristic sureness, the answer isn’t clear.

His portrayal sure was frightening and inaccurate: “the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others.” Along with the conservatives he is courting for the November elections, Bush seeks to depict the use of embryonic stem cells as murder.

Alas for him and his party, most Americans, while they rightly grieve over the moral ambiguities, seem willing to trade some embryonic stem-cell research for medical benefit. Polls show wide support, including up to 70 percent of Republicans in some polls. That reflects a GOP hurt by calculated grandstanding on medicine and science. (Remember the Terri Schiavo fracas?)

Both the House and Senate passed the bill by wide but not veto-proof margins. A House override failed shortly after the veto; now it doesn’t matter what the Senate does.

And it doesn’t matter (to Bush, at least) that, as much as he may believe in the principles he champions with such aggression, such principles are far from settled. A true debate awaits, and a small, extreme coterie is trying to short-circuit it – because it may lead to tradeoffs that coterie dislikes.

Embryonic stem-cell research will continue. The Bush policy pretends to take a stand but lets private businesses do what they please with embryonic stem cells. (If academic researchers want to do it, they can, just not with federal funds.) There are now about a dozen private stem-cell research centers in the United States, the largest at Harvard.

The main point, however, is not research but democracy. Bush showed the world Wednesday that, under the guise of “leadership,” he will ignore a growing social consensus in favor of the politics of the moment and his favored coterie.

Snowflakes? Snow job.

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6 thoughts on “Moral Boundary or More Ol’ Politics?

  1. I could not be more angry with this posting if I tried, and there have been times when I have!

    It’s one thing to say that the President is heeding progress, isn’t looking at the whole picture, or even is being hypocritical given the situation in Iraq.

    However, I am sick and tired of reading every Tom, Dick, and liberal blog that refuses to acknowledge – if even half-heartedly – that the President had a conscious about using frozen embryos aka would-be humans unused in invitro procedures. I think of all the liberal montra about rights this, environmental that (see post below), but when it comes to actual human life and the President defending it he is derided.

    That’s not intellectually fair in any sense nor does it account for the millions of Americans – myself included – who agreed with the President’s decision and applaud him for it.

    He hasn’t used a veto in over 5 years; there’s no reason to think he used it here flippantly or without thought. Just because his is not your opinion doesn’t mean it lacks merit or rationality.

    Lastly, if Bush “will ignore a growing social consensus in favor of the politics of the moment and his favored coterie” then why has he not vetoed any other piece of legislation prior to this bill?

    I know your answer already…

  2. A rigorous intellectual argument Don. First, let’s drop the liberal versus conservative. They’re labels and they don’t work well.

    First, instead of vetoes the president has the auspicious place in history to have over 750 executive letters (more than all other presidents combined) which ostensibly state he is the “decider” as to whether the bill passed into law applies in his interpretation of our Constitution. That’s pretty frightening if you let that sink in as to future precedent.

    If you’re defining life biblically then we have a problem. Our constitution is sworn to by our elected officials, not the bible. I embrace faith based concerns. I do, but using it as the strawman in an argument raises questions, such as is using birth control a sin by your standards and how many millions of these are committed daily.

    Is it a sin to dispose of these unused embryos which is where they go if not used for potentially relieving human suffering.

    There are two Gods depending on what position you choose to take. The one that is accepting and nonjudgmental and the one it appears you seem to suggest ought to guide our actions and behaviors.

    My God gave humans free will and a mind to build cures and to curse mankind. I find it perplexing the frequency of those defending life at ease with rationalizing taking it if it’s “them” over there who we’re bringing what exactly to improve the remaining?

    Where’s the merit and rationality in the absence of your standard of what the social conscience ought to be? I do not presume to know your answer. I have not the gift of superiority that presumes.

  3. Mr. Sheeler, your post is astounding on so many levels. Most significantly is the idea that those who oppose the use of embryonic stem cells do so solely for religious reasons. The same argument is used against those who oppose abortion, called “religious zealots”.

    The truth is each of us acts based on our own moral foundations. You cannot dismiss someone else’s moral decisions simply because spirituality is a foundation.

    I oppose abortion, and would vote, if given the opportunity, to end the practice. Whether my position is based on intellectual, scientific, or religious reasons is irrelevent. While our constitution ensures no state religion is established, it’s ridiculous to think that elected officials incorporating spirituality in their moral decision-making is somehow unconstitutional. If that were the case, only those who were raised completely void of any religion could serve.

    In fact, you mention what your God has given you, which seems to imply that you are considering faith in your argument as well. Inappropriate for someone who hopes to be a US senator?

    You dismiss the conservative and liberal labels quickly, probably because they don’t suit your arguments. But you are quick to label Don, making the assumption that he is reacting “biblically.” It is you who introduced the so-called strawman of religion into this argument. Don didn’t mention it.

    I believe SCIENTIFICALLY that an embryo is human life. Now state your argument.

  4. Carl, Thanks. I was going to respond to Don’s post, but you pretty much said what needed to be said.

    While I do respect that Mr Bush made what he feels is a moral decision based on his beliefs,it is my opinion that such religious beliefs should not the sole basis for law in this country. Don’t believe in it? Don’t participate. But don’t assume that your religious beliefs should restrict medical advances.

    For centuries, autopsies were prohibited by The Church, which inhibited the understanding of such basic knowledge as the flow of blood. While I doubt Mr Roach is suggesting a return to such standards, we have to bear in mind that we’ve been down that road of religious prohibitions before.

    As I understand it, much of Christianity is based on a personal relationship with Jesus. That’s a personal relationship; not a governmental relationship.

  5. I’ve often wondered if it were possible for humanity to develop a system of morality based solely on science and reason. I guess Mike answers that question.

  6. Carl, I reread my post and did not see the word ‘bible’ used.

    This conversation can go a long way if we do not allow it to degrade to generalities and assumptions.

    Indeed, your (Carl) post speaks directly to my anger. I want to apologize to Mr. Jaffe because his post was just the last of a long line I had read and from his postings – while I disagree with some – they are from a passionate and sincere base.

    Having said that, I wish that the other side could grant conservatives such as myself the same respect. Carl, I believe many well intentioned people agree that stem cell research is going to be the research area that will change our lives. They may well be correct.

    But, for me I cannot consciously justify the use of embryos as they were defined in this legislation. Why the conversation has to degrade to a religious versus a-religious conversation doesn’t to me address the real issue. I’m prepared to have a reasonable discussion on this issue. Reason is I don’t understand the vitrol lobbied against the President for voting his conscious.

    In today’s political debate it seems that most people only value a conscious decision when that decision is something they agree with.

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