National Catholic Register


A Courageous No

BY the Editors

August 6-12, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/7/06 at 10:00 AM


What if the government took money from your paycheck and used it to create human beings for spare parts?

That’s exactly what a bill, written and passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress would have done, had President Bush signed it. He refused.

We have had our differences with the president in the past, but he deserves high praise for an act of true courage in this case.

Some pundits claimed that Bush vetoed the bill for political reasons. It’s hard to imagine what they were. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans disapproved of the veto, said the Gallup polling organization.

Not only did Bush veto it: He made it the first and so far only veto of his presidency. Not only that, but he made a press event out of it and used it to teach Americans about just what was at stake in embryonic stem-cell research.

At the veto ceremony, he surrounded himself with children who once were discarded embryos — the very embryos Congress would have paid your money to scientists to experiment on. Instead, these are now happy, healthy toddlers and grade-school kids enjoying Washington on summer break.

“These boys and girls are not spare parts,” he declared — and took the occasion to sign the “Fetus Farming Prohibition Act,” which prohibits trafficking in human fetuses that are created with the sole intent of aborting them to harvest their parts.

The result? Lots of people tried to score political points from the veto — but not Republicans.

“Stem-cell issue a boon for Democrats?” asked one headline.

“Democrats seek gains in stem-cell issue,” announced another.

Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sought a boost from the veto. A Peta spokesman urged more experimentation on human embryos because it has “the potential to end the vast majority of animal testing.”

Stem-cell research votes are often misunderstood. This one was no exception.

In his veto remarks, the president once again explained the difference between embryonic stem-cell research — research that uses embryos for spare parts — and ethical forms of stem-cell research. “Since I announced my policy in 2001, my administration has expanded funding of research into stem cells that can be drawn from children, adults and the blood in umbilical cords with no harm to the donor, and these stem cells are currently being used in medical treatments,” he said.

The president didn’t ban embryonic stem-cell research. All he banned is the plan to fund killing embryos with tax money from our paychecks. Bush also mentioned a cutting-edge technology that has been reported several times in the Register. “Researchers are investigating new techniques that might allow doctors and scientists to produce stem cells just as versatile as those derived from human embryos without harming life.”

It wasn’t Bush who made the issue into a political showcase. Congress knew all along that Bush intended to veto this bill. They passed it anyway. Worse, they refused to pass an adult stem-cell research bill. Embryonic stem-cell research has so far failed to produce any cures — and its much-vaunted “promise” is questionable: Scientists are finding that these cells are highly unstable. But ethical adult stem cell research is already helping patients, with applications to at least 70 illnesses.

A bill to expand this nonlethal method was unanimously approved by the Senate and received 273 votes in the House of Representatives, but it was blocked by Democrats in the House using procedural maneuvers. In other words, in order to force the president to veto a bill in hopes of gaining a political talking point, his opponents blocked a better bill that could have contributed toward the cure of terrible diseases much more quickly.

Bush has been accused of letting a religious belief trump science. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. His opponents have allowed a political fight to trump both science and religious belief.

When the Italian parliament did much the same thing recently, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano called the action “macabre” and “twisted.”

The White House event presented the best possible argument for Bush’s action: the children who surrounded him.

“These children were adopted while still embryos, and have been blessed with the chance to grow up in a loving family,” said Bush. “They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research, that we all began our lives as a small collection of cells, and that America must never abandon our fundamental moral principles in our zeal for new treatments and cures.”