Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Being Reasonable About Stem Cell Research

Charles Krauthammer cuts through the lies and distortions perpetrated by the Kerry campaign about stem cell research in a Time Magazine essay.

"In his Aug. 7 radio address to the nation, John Kerry three times referred to "the ban" on stem-cell research instituted by President George W. Bush. What ban? Stem-cell research is legal in the U.S. and has been so since human embryonic stem cells were first isolated in 1998. There are dozens of groups studying them, including major stem-cell centers recently launched at Stanford and Harvard.
Perhaps Democrats mean a ban on federal funding for stem-cell research. But, in fact, there is no such ban. Through the Clinton years there was a ban. Not a single penny of federal money was allowed for any embryo research. In his first year in office, however, President Bush reviewed the issue and permitted the first federal funding of stem-cell research ever.
Bush did more than just free up money. In August 2001 he addressed the issue in one of the most morally serious speeches ever delivered by a U.S. President. Political speeches are generally constructed — I know; I used to write them — so that facts are stacked from the very beginning to lead you inexorably to the foregone conclusion. In contrast, Bush's nationally televised address presented both sides of the question with such fairness and respect that three-quarters of the way through the speech you found yourself without any idea where the President would come out."

I have no ax to grind either for or against stem cell research. Its potential right now appears to be good, but there is still considerable debate. Wishing that it will be a cure for Alzheimer's Disease will not make it so. Whether the stem cell research lives up to the strong endorsement from John Kerry and the Democratic Party is yet to be determined. I hope it does. But distorting Bush's actions in this area are disingenuous and manipulative. It is not as if lives are being lost by Bush's policies. Quite the contrary. It was Bush, that initiated federal funding of this research, as Krauthammer points out. If the evidence begins to accumulate that stem cells can influence or even cure diseases, then the research will be unstoppable, federal funding or not.

Until then, it is very foolish to pretend that there are not ethical and moral issues connected to this type of research. People tend to feel deeply and strongly on both sides of this debate. I think it is interesting that John Kerry would prosecute a "sensitive" war on terror, but he seems incapable of being "sensitive" to the very real concerns many people in this country have about stem cell research. For now, President Bush has found a middle path to accommodate both sides of the debate. I think it is a reasonable compromise.

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