Ethics & Public Policy Center

President Bush’s Stem Cell Policy is Appropriate

Published in USA Today on June 8, 2004



As the national debate about embryonic stem cells heats up, it is worth remembering why there is a debate at all. Everyone wants to cure terrible human diseases, especially those that afflict the very young. But modern science, for all of its great blessings, occasionally presents us with ethical dilemmas.

<inside-COPY$3>Embryonic stem-cell research requires the deliberate destruction of human embryos. These embryos may be small — but size does not define a person’s humanity. They may lack developed human consciousness — but human dignity does not reside in our consciousness alone. They may be frozen or “left over” in fertility clinics — but the notion that someone is “going to die anyway” is not an ethical justification for exploitation. They may not look human — but we are left to wonder: What else can they be? And what respect do we owe them?

<inside-COPY$3>It is these hard ethical questions that lie at the center of the stem-cell debate and shape President Bush’s stem-cell policy: Should we create and destroy early human life as a medical resource? And should we compel those who object to this research to support it with public funding?

<inside-COPY$3>The Bush policy does not stop embryo research from proceeding in the private sector. It seeks to advance stem-cell research without forcing all taxpayers to support new embryo destruction. And the number of lines available for federal funding has grown steadily since the policy’s announcement, despite the claims of some legislators.

<inside-COPY$3>Moreover, while the science is promising, it remains speculative: No one has been cured using embryonic stem cells, and no one knows what therapeutic fruit this research will bear. To speak of “100 million people” being cured, as the lawmakers say in their letters, is irresponsible; it risks giving false hope to those who now suffer greatly.

<inside-COPY$3>For those who believe advancing stem-cell research is the only human good at issue in this debate, the Bush policy obviously makes no sense. But for those who see the ethical and political complexity of the stem-cell question — involving the possibility of curing terrible diseases, the ethical perils of turning nascent human life into raw material and the need to balance and respect the moral views of a diverse country — the Bush policy remains both principled and prudent.

<inside-COPY$3>Eric Cohen is the editor of The New Atlantis, a scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, and a consultant to President Bush’s Council on Bioethics. The view expressed is his own.

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