President Bushís decision to fund stem cell research on
"already destroyed" embryos has left many grappling
with the moral and political implications of his pronouncement.
Politically, the choice has played very well in more liberal
quarters and even in several of the more hard-core pro-life
camps. Reverends Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson among others,
have both voiced their support of Bushís decision while groups
like NOW and NARAL offered up only mild discontent, protesting
only that the Presidentís edict doesnít go far enough.
Morally and ethically, however, the decision has many pundits
and astute observes stumped. On one hand, it is illegal for the
federal government to fund any research on living, human embryos
for any reason, but yet, if the embryos have already had their
stem cells extracted, suddenly, the government is absolved of
all wrongdoing, all responsibility, and can fund research on the
stem cell lines derived from once-living embryos. This strikes
me as inconsistent.
The President apparently finds it permissible to allow
funding of cell line research as long as the government had no
part in the killing of the embryos that resulted from the
harvesting of the stem cells in the first place. This is
analogous to exonerating oneself from any wrong doing after you
spend a bag full of money that you knew was stolen from a bank!
You would be prosecuted regardless of whether or not you didnít
assist in the initial act of robbery because you knowingly spent
the stolen cash.
Another example of this tortured logic appears every time
riotous thugs destroy storefronts in the midst of chaotic
protesting and in the name of equality, and then claim innocence
because someone else committed deviancy first. Everyone knows
that this is stupid rationale. Any person who lifts any items
contained in a given store is certainly guilty of stealing
regardless of whether or not they initiated the break-in (and
regardless of any claimed injustice).
In the same way, President Bush acquits himself of any
immoral offense because "the federal government is going to
be operating on stem cell lines already extracted from now-dead
embryos." This reminds me of the hyena roaming the
Serengeti looking for food; while he wonít dare take on a wild
buffalo himself, heíll gladly sup from the beastís carcassÖafter
a pride of lions takes it down.
While President Bushís decision isnít completely
congruous to the example of the hyena, one can draw a comparison
between the Presidentís hair-splitting and the hyenaís wary
cowardliness. "Let someone else deal with the larger issue
(the killing of embryos or the slaying of the giant buffalo),
and Iíll come on the scene after the hardest task is complete
and clean up with little or no risk to myself (the Presidentís
decision to fund research on already destroyed embryos or
the hyenaís devouring of some other animalís kill). Both the
hyena and the president have sidestepped the larger issue and in
doing so live to face another day. This may be permissible in
the animal kingdom, but I expect more from my reasoning
Consider, would it be permissible for the federal health
gurus at the National Institutes of Health to collect research
on cadavers already killed purposely for the "promise"
of future research to be done on them? Of course not; this is
akin to the worst of all pre-mediated murders, that of allowing
or tacitly condoning the slaughter of humans by others and
afterwards having the feds jump in and say "murdering these
folks was wrong, but since theyíre already dead and since we
didnít kill them, we can do what we wish to the
Would anyone not agree that to permit killing solely for the
"rewards" of future research on dead humans is totally
immoral and illegal? Then accordingly, why would anyone give
funding and license to research on stem cell lines derived from
embryos that were purposely created and then likewise purposely
destroyed for the sole aim of harvesting some nebulous future
reward? Those stem cell lines President Bush has now permitted
to be explored were created and then wantonly killed, purposely!
What is to keep the folks over at NIH from repeatedly drawing
upon already destroyed embryos procured from the private sector
and then obtaining funding for their research by virtue of these
embryos having been killed by someone other than the feds? This
is in effect what just happened with the Presidentís decision,
and I canít help but wonder what will keep this from occurring
over and over again.
The crux of the issue, then, is intent. Did the creators of
these embryos intend to kill the embryos from the outset? Yes.
And so the government is not removed from any complicity in the
matter. Indeed, the government is the worst offender of them
all, because the governmentís folly is two fold: allowing
embryos to be killed in the first place (which is illegal and
evil before the law and President Bush), but then also absolving
itself from wrongdoing because Uncle Sam didnít technically
kill the embryos. That would be akin to a psychiatrist watching
without intervening, a deranged person killing another human,
for the exact purpose of being able to study the brain wave
patterns of the deranged subject after the killer is
committed/sentenced to the psychiatristís ward by a liberal
judge. Is not the psychiatrist just as guilty as the killer
because she didnít intervene and allowed the murder to take
place without calling on the authorities or else acting herself
simply to gain a top-flight research specimen? I think so.
Should government be in the business of rewarding illegal
behavior? As a friend reminded me recently, isnít the same
principle at work here the same principle that has kept
pro-lifers solidly opposed to any research on dead fetal tissue
because such research only encourages more abortions?
I still support the President; I trust him to be a good man
with a good heart, but his decision is inconsistent, and as I
pointed out in my last column, it opens the door just enough to
legitimize further embryonic stem cell research four years from
Letís hope that Congress and/or the President think on
these things a bit more and reverse the treacherous course we
are now embarked upon.
by David McCullough
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