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. Bushâ€”who is to scientific progress what Fox News is to journalistic integrityâ€”offered the following reasoning: â€œThis 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.â€? 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. Thatâ€™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 Bushâ€™s veto, offered here in full:
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.