Robert P. George (law professor at Princeton and member of the President’s Council on Bioethics) and Eric Cohen wrote a terrific piece in National Review about the politicization of the stem cell controversy. They discuss a couple of important votes that took place in the U.S. Legislature in late July regarding bills that would fund stem cell research. A bill supporting the federal funding of destructive embryonic stem cell research was passed by both houses of Congress, but vetoed by President Bush. As important as that is, George and Cohen focused on another bill that did not pass both houses of Congress. This second bill would have funded alternative forms of creating embryonic-like stem cells. While the Senate approved it unanimously, and the House approved it with a majority, key supporters of the destructive embryonic stem cell research bill pulled some shenanigans to kill the bill in the House.
This is important because one of the mantras the pro-embryonic stem cell research crowd repeats over and over again is that Bush is anti-science, and not interested in finding cures. And yet here is an example where embryonic stem cell research supporters had a chance to federally fund stem cell research that is currently more fruitful and more promising than embryonic stem cell research, but refused to do so. As George and Cohen wrote:
Some opponents of the Bush stem-cell policy have argued that we should support any and all stem-cell research, and not limit any particular type, so that science can advance on all fronts at once. The president has argued that we should support all ethical stem-cell research, so we may advance medical science while always respecting human dignity and protecting human life.
But those members of the House who voted against the Specter-Santorum bill did not choose all effective avenues of science or all ethical avenues of science. Instead, they would support only ethically controversial stem-cell research. They would support the research only if it involves the destruction of embryos. Otherwise, they are not interested.
That is not a position for the advancement of science on all fronts, but for keeping a political issue alive even as science advances and leaves it behind. It is hard to imagine a more blatant example of political cynicism overpowering a constructive solution. As the president put it: “It makes no sense to say that you’re in favor of finding cures for terrible diseases as quickly as possible, and then block a bill that would authorize funding for promising and ethical stem cell research.”
It is not Bush who is anti-science, or holding up potential cures. It is a group of Congressman and the lobbyists who support them. It is they, not Bush, who is putting ideology ahead of cures.