Stem Cells & The Politics of Morality

by Laura Snedeker

For President George W. Bush and the anti-science wing of the Republican Party, every embryo is sacred. Last week, the president again vetoed legislation for federally funded stem cell research, citing an ethical dilemma.

“The Congress has sent me legislation that would compel American taxpayers for the first time in our history, to support the deliberate destruction of human embryos,” the president said in an attempt to appeal to the GOP’s so-called “pro-life” base in the run-up to the 2008 election.

The president and the right-wing Christians, who oppose stem cell research on the grounds that it requires the destruction of potential human life, don’t care about the potential for curing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or neurological diseases caused by shrapnel to the brain. For all they worship Ronald Reagan, they haven’t followed in the footsteps of former First Lady Nancy. After a decade of personal experience caring for a husband afflicted with Alzheimer’s, she came to the conclusion that America had already wasted too much time debating that could be better spent curing diseases.

Conservatives ignore the fact that most of these embryos will be destroyed whether or not they are used to further the advance of science and medicine, but instead have proposed adoption as a means of preserving the millions of frozen embryos lying in hospital freezers. Are there not enough orphaned and abandoned children in this country and around the world, children without health insurance or decent housing, that we need to promote the adoption of the frozen embryos discarded during in-vitro fertilization?

Political rhetoric has transformed Americans from “citizens” with a responsibility to help their fellow man and hold government to a high standard into “taxpayers” and “voters.” Citizens actively participate in democratic government and expect the president and Congress not to legislate morality. The taxpayer and voter have only two responsibilities: To pay their taxes and to go the polls every four years to elect a group of politicians who seek to minimize their participation in a representative democracy.

And while it may be the first time in our history in which Congress has compelled Americans to support the “deliberate destruction of human embryos,” it is not the first time, and will not be the last, that that Americans are compelled to support the deliberate destruction of human life in foreign lands.

During a press conference in 2005 in which he discussed his meeting with parents who adopted frozen embryos, the president affirmed his opposition to using government money to support stem-cell research. Government research facilities would have to use stem-cell lines from already-destroyed embryos, and only the private sector, which already controls a substantial amount of the American health care system, could use living embryos. The president explained that we “should not use public money to support the further destruction of human life."

America operates a multi-billion dollar defense industry, and no president would dare eliminate Pentagon subsidies for the arms manufacturers, who use their weapons on defenseless civilian populations or sell them to ruthless dictators in support of American foreign policy. No president would deliver a lecture on morality to the construction contractors who turn devastated war zones into gold. And then as wealthy political donors they turn around and deposit that gold back in the campaign funds of politicians.

How dare this president, standing upon his altar of human skulls, tell Americans that he knows what morality is? We have been told that it is unethical to use human embryos to research cures for diseases, but that it is necessary, even moral, for Congress and the president to compel American taxpayers to finance wars of terror against living, breathing people.

(Photo of stem cells from mice via the National Science Foundation; the photo is in the public domain. To see a cartoon about Bush's policies concerning stem cells from the Journal News of New York, please click here.)

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