Preview of a coming controversy

President Bush has said that he will veto legislation Congress is likely to pass calling for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research on stem cell lines other than those previously approved by the administration. It would be the first time Bush has used his veto power.
This issue divides conservatives and it’s easy for me to see why, since I’m of two minds about it myself. On balance, while I admire Bush for taking a principled stand on the issue, I tend to think he’s taken the wrong stand.
On the one hand, I agree that the human embryo in any form or context has intrinsic moral significance. On the other hand, to the extent that embryos at fertility clinics that are going to be discarded anyway can be used for potentially life-saving research, a pro-life argument arises for supporting the research.
President Bush tried to balance these competing pro-life concerns early in his administration when he approved federal funding for embryonic stem cell research involving a limited number of stem cell lines taken from embryos that had already been destroyed. I admired the moral seriousness of this attempt. But whether he struck the right balance turns, in my mind, on an empirical question — how far can researchers get using those stem cell lines and stem cells from non-embryonic sources.
Unfortunately, the question is not easily answered. More precisely, perhaps, it is too easily answered. Scientists are all over the lot on the question, and the issue is so hot politically that it’s difficult to trust the science.
But on balance, as I read the evidence, the scientists who argue that existing stem cell lines are insufficient have the better case. In addition, their views are consistent with the intuitive notion that the likelihood of advances is increased significantly through diversity. Thus, I’m inclined to believe that the president is on the wrong side of this issue.


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