Stem Cell Vote and the President Bush's Moral Inconsistency


The U.S. Senate will be voting this week on expanding the federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. Last year, President Bush issued his only veto to block such funding arguing, "This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others." Apparently the President believes that embryos consisting of 200 or so cells are the moral equivalent to a baby. But does he really believe that?

Harvard university political philosopher and member of the President's Council on Bioethics, Michael Sandel wonders about the President's moral consistency:

A further reason to be skeptical of the notion that blastocysts are persons is to notice that many who invoke it do not embrace its full implications. President Bush is a case in point. In 2001, he announced a policy that restricted federal funding to already existing stem cell lines, so that no taxpayer funds would encourage or support the destruction of embryos. And in 2006, he vetoed a bill that would have funded new embryonic stem cell research, saying that he did not want to support "the taking of innocent human life."

But it is a striking feature of the president's position that, while restricting the funding of embryonic stem cell research, he has made no effort to ban it. To adapt a slogan from the Clinton administration, the Bush policy might be summarized as "don't fund, don't ban." But this policy is at odds with the notion that embryos are human beings.

If harvesting stem cells from a blastocyst were truly on a par with harvesting organs from a baby, then the morally responsible policy would be to ban it, not merely deny it federal funding. If some doctors made a practice of killing children to get organs for transplantation, no one would take the position that the infanticide should be ineligible for federal funding but allowed to continue in the private sector. In fact, if we were persuaded that embryonic stem cell research were tantamount to infanticide, we would not only ban it but treat it as a grisly form of murder and subject scientists who performed it to criminal punishment….

If he [Bush} does not want to ban embryonic stem cell research, or prosecute stem cell scientists for murder, or ban fertility clinics from creating and discarding excess embryos, this must mean that he does not really consider human embryos as morally equivalent to fully developed human beings after all.

But if he doesn't believe that embryos are persons, then why ban federally funded embryonic stem cell research that holds promise for curing diseases and saving lives?

Whatever your stand on federal funding of research, Sandel's whole thoughtful column is worth reading here.

Here's where I ask "Is Heaven Populated Chiefly with the Souls of Embryos?"