Stem Cell Research

Get Ready for Veto Number 2 (Embryonic Stem Cell Edition)


As Congress gets ready to pass legislation overturning the 2001 limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, the White House is pledged to veto same (the only time Bush has vetoed anything). While it's likely the Senate has the votes to overrule the veto, it seems that the House doesn't.

From a preemptive White House report that effectively annouces Bush veto:

"The stem cell debate is only the first in what will be an onrushing train of biotechnology challenges in our future. We must establish a constructive precedent here for taking the moral dimensions of these issues seriously," read the report, entitled Advancing Stem Cell Science without Destroying Human Life….

"Without an understanding that life begins at conception, and that an embryo is a nascent human being, there will always be arguments that other uses, takeovers, and make-overs of embryos are justified by potential scientific and medical benefits," the White House report reads.

Full news account here in Scientific American.

Of course, if the White House seriously believes that "all life begins at conception, and that an embryo is a nascent human being," then the question isn't why Bush is limiting federal money, but why he isn't pulling the plug completely. Or for that matter, why he isn't doing something to bring the thousands of frozen embryos sitting on the shelves in American fertility clinics and laboratories to term. Recall how press secretary Tony Snow summarized his boss' opposition to embryonic stem cells: "The simple answer is he thinks murder's wrong."

Could it be that Bush's opposition–and that of many people against embryonic stem cell research–is more symbolic than real? That it is as much a political signaling device as a heartfelt belief? If the creation of embryonic stem cells (and, of course, unused embryos from IVF and other procedures) is akin to murder, how can Bush stand on the sidelines? Given the fact that Bush is willing to fund some stem-cell research, this is not a debate about federal funding in general (my default setting on the feds funding just about anything other than defense and courts is no) but about attitudes toward science, reproductive rights, and other issues in play in the culture wars.

Reason's Ronald Bailey,  explained why stem cells aren't babies here.

He explained why researchers don't need the feds here.