Forgive the headline. We're not trying to compare the recently deceased 40th president to Jesus in a play on the popular Christian WWJD slogan. No one here wants to deify, or even canonize, Ronald Reagan
But it's others who have raised this topic.
Members of the Reagan family, notably the former first lady, have called on President George W. Bush to allow more federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. The fact that Reagan was sick for so long with Alzheimer's disease makes it very tempting to use him as a poster boy for a stem-cell campaign. Forget for a moment that some scientists have stated that embryonic stem-cell therapy probably won't ever cure Alzheimer's. That hasn't stopped leading advocates and influential publications from joining the chorus.
Folks are invoking the “spirit of Ronald Reagan” on this one. Newsweek's Jonathan Alter has even claimed that Reagan would have approved of more money for the research.
Now, wait a minute! What makes Alter so sure? Has he never read any of the pro-life speeches and letters Reagan wrote — including a celebrated essay on abortion that he published while in office — against the advice of his political advisers?
In his 1988 Personhood Proclamation, Reagan declared the “unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception.”
By now, we've all become pretty familiar with the connection the Church and the pro-life movement have been pointing out between embryonic stem-cell research and abortion. Obtaining such a cell for research requires destruction of the boy or girl embryo from which it comes.
While it is not illegal to conduct such experiments in the United States, Bush three years ago forbid the spending of taxpayers’ money on any further research. He recognizes that many Americans would be deeply offended if they knew they were contributing to the destruction of nascent life — even for a hoped-for good result. Besides, there are perfectly moral ways to obtain stem cells, from umbilical-cord blood or bone marrow, without killing an embryo.
But Bush's critics seem to be adopting the mantle of Reagan and saying: “Mr. President, tear down this wall” you have erected between the sick and the promise of science.
Well, if you're going to compare stem-cell opposition to communism, let's ask the question: Just why did Reagan oppose communism? Paul Kengor, author of God and Ronald Reagan, said it was the godlessness of the system. But besides that, it was a matter of freedom — God-given freedom. Reagan said in a 1982 speech to the British Parliament, “It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying freedom and human dignity to its citizens.”
“He believed that God wanted people to be free,” Kengor said in an interview with Christianity Today.
In his 1983 essay “Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation,” Reagan wrote, “America was founded by men and women who shared a vision of the value of each and every individual.”
Freedom is the opposite of slavery, which is using another person for one's own good. Christian doctrine is clear about that, and Reagan's great contemporary, Pope John Paul II, has written beautifully about the necessity of loving another person because he is created in the image and likeness of God, not because he can give us something we need.
As it turns out, Reagan banned federal financing of fetal tissue research. One likes to think he would see in embryonic stem-cell research not the hope that science and technology would liberate people from Alzheimer's or Parkinson's or diabetes but a utilitarian monster promising to deliver some uncertain good on the backs of uniquely-created human beings.
Those tiny persons would be denied their right to develop into fetuses and babies because someone else's cure is deemed more important than their lives. Or society is more important than the individual. With the “graying” of America, there is the prospect of millions of elderly suffering from debilitating diseases. For the sake of society, which faces the prospect of spending billions of dollars in health care, certain boys and girls — embryos — will have to be sacrificed.
It seems to us that there's not much difference between that and the ideology Reagan spent his life and presidency fighting.