While Bush keeps his head buried in the sand…
One of the more polarizing issues of the 2004 presidential campaign centered around research on human embryonic stem cells, microorganisms with a pluripotent capability to mature into many different cell types within the human body. They represent the next frontier in terms of treating and perhaps curing all manner of diseases from sickle cell anemia to various types of cancer. But the cells are harvested from human embryos, a situation that raises the ire of pro-life activists and others who say that human life begins at the conception.
Shortly after Bush was first elected president, in 2001, he placed a ceiling on existing US stem-cell research by cutting government funding to the program, essentially saying that we could go no further in our pursuit of this type of research.
But this is not an election year, and the issue has surfaced once more, this time in a House bill sponsored by a Republican from Delaware, Mike Castle, and a Democrat from Colorado, Diane DeGette. They pulled together the 218 votes the bill needed in order to advance to the Senate, but President Bush says he will veto the bill if it comes across his desk.
Bush has signed more than a thousand laws into the books since he took office in 2001, including ones that give stricter guidelines for bankruptcy filings and others that grant more power to the FBI. Interestingly enough, Bush has not used the power of veto a single time since he took the helm. That puts him in a class with seven other presidents, three of whom (Harrison, Taylor and Garfield) died in office. Three more, Jefferson and both Adamses, served before the turn of the 19th century, when bills were not introduced with the same frequency as today. The seventh was Millard Fillmore, the last president from the Whig party and one of the few who was never actually elected (he was Taylor’s vice-president and gained the seat when Taylor died ‘— of indigestion, by the way).
But we think it would be a mistake for Bush to break his cherry on this issue. For one, it’s popular, supported 2-1 by the American people. The current bill was introduced by both a Democrat and a Republican, which we can take to mean that support for it crosses party lines. Also, the technology is saving people’s lives, which has got to count for something in a ‘culture of life.’ But there’s another factor here as well.
Were Bush to veto this bill, one of the lasting characteristics of his legacy will be one of ignorance over experimentation ‘— he will have pulled back the reins when he should be spurring the horse, and there will be technological consequences to pay in the future.
Great Britain is already aggressively pursuing stem cell research. The University of Seoul, in South Korea, has been making stem cells through cloning. Here in the United States our scientists’ hands are tied by a president who cannot ‘— or will not ‘— see the future.