I am troubled by research on stem cells taken from human embryos. I cannot see any reasonable place to draw the line at where life begins other than conception. I know this perspective has problems, but not nearly as many as when one draws the line further along in the process.
I agree with the President when he said:
This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it. ...The problem is that I'm not sure the President believes what he said.
Embryonic stem cells come from human embryos that are destroyed for their cells. Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value. ...
It's true that the embryos used for stem cell research are destroyed when that research happens. But the elephant in the room, which the President didn't address, is that these embryos, which are largely the left-overs from in vitro fertilization procedures, will be destroyed anyway. Doctors routinely fertilize a number of eggs for each couple trying to conceive, and the embryos not used are routinely discarded after the couple concludes their conception efforts. As one who does believe that life begins at conception, I can't see how this is OK.
So for me, I don't see how we can talk about stem cell research without talking about the problem of "excess" embryos created by in vitro fertilization. Christian blogger Joe Carter, who provided an audio essay today supporting the President's veto on NPR, agrees with me, I think, but sees the President's action as preventing further progress down an already bad road. I agree with Joe, but sadly, there is nothing in the President's statement that says what Joe and I were wishing he'd said.
You see, the President's statement from yesterday seems to recognize this linkage and then proceeds as if it's not there. I guess I can give him points for not being as blatantly untruthful as Karl Rove has been this week, but then I would also be naive, since this Administration routinely coordinates its messages with the harshest or most mendacious coming from surrogates so the President can seem more reasonable.
But I can't even give him points for reasonableness, because he justifies his obviously incremental decision by appealing to absolute principles. And this is where I start to lose it.
I know the President likes to speak in broad principles and absolutes, but if those words are to have any meaning they must actually serve as principles and absolutes and not as merely rhetorical window dressing. So if we apply the principle the President claims - innocent life should not be destroyed to benefit others - as a genuine principle, then one also has to ask:
What about those embryos that are being destroyed after in vitro fertilization? And if this really is a principle and not merely a poll tested phrase, then one should ask: What about the loss of innocent life in Lebanon this week? You seem fine with the Israelis killing innocent Lebanese. Maybe there's a kind of ethical calculation you've made - I understand that world leaders are sometime forced to make those kinds of choices. But yesterday you claimed absolute principle when you vetoed the stem cell bill. And what about the manifestly innocent people you've imprisoned and had tortured and even killed in Guantanamo and other prisons? Where's the absolute principle in that?At this point, my head exploded. Thankfully it was put back together by a very well-targeted post by Fred Clark at Slacktivist. Fred calmly and clearly punctures the nonsense of the President's statement, and makes some rather troubling conclusions about our leader. You really should go read the whole thing. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Here's the thing. We need to have a serious conversation about the issues underlying stem cell research. Sadly, the President's manifestly unserious statement (and I'm being charitable in calling it that - again, go read Fred Clark) has made it harder now to have that conversation. I and others can think very hard and well about the issue, but if the people charged with the decision by our Constitution and laws are unwilling to do even that simple work, then I don't know where we are.