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Bush's Stem Cell Veto
What's Wrong With This Picture?

In the first ever veto of his administration, President Bush has killed legislation that would have expanded federal support of stem cell research by making available to scientists new "lines" of such cells that experts generally agree are needed to move forward in finding treatments for spinal cord injury, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other life threatening diseases.

The veto was announced during a carefully staged ceremony at the White House, where the President was surrounded by families whose "snowflake babies" began as "frozen embryos" created by in vitro fertilization. No longer needed by the families who produced them, such embryos were available for "adoption." The president said: "We must remember that 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. We see that value in the children who are with us today."

What the President failed to mention is that HR 810 would not have provided support for the destruction of embryos. Rather, some embryos, already scheduled to be discarded, would have been set aside for use in an effort to aid suffering human beings. Not a single embryo that might otherwise have been "adopted" would have been used for research purposes. In my view, HR 810 proposed to do what I intend to do at the time of my own death, that is, make available my own organs, otherwise assigned to the grave, for medical research that might contribute to the life or health of another.

"These boys and girls are not spare parts," said the President, implying that the sponsors of HR 810 thought that they were! That photo of the President, with a cute little child in his arms, insinuates that the overwhelming majority in the House and Senate who support the expansion of stem cell research, and the 70% majority of the American people who agree, are somehow acting out of a callous indifference to the value of human life itself.

Further, one of the arguments put forward by those who support the President in all this was well summarized by Congressman Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, after the White House ceremony: “This is a profound moral issue. The issue is whether or not it is morally right to use the taxpayer dollars of millions of pro-life Americans who find this research morally objectionable.’’

If You Are Going To Use A Moral Argument, You Need To Use It Consistently

To be sure, Representative Pence has a point. Taxation does implicate citizens in supporting activities of the state that some believe are morally objectionable. However, this is a principle that one needs to apply consistently. If it is wrong to tax the minority of our citizens who oppose stem cell research, forcing them to support an activity of the state which they feel is evil, why would it not be an even greater problem to force American taxpayers to pay for a war in Iraq that an overwhelming majority now believe is morally wrong?

Setting Snowflake Babies Against Those Who Are Not So Fortunate

What is wrong with the picture of the President holding that snowflake baby in his arms is that while he celebrates the lives of the healthy children in the photo -- and who doesn't? -- he was at that very moment cutting off funding that could benefit an entire population of children, as well as adults, who are not so fortunate and who are crying out for a cure for their life threatening ailments. We, the people, do not yet have a President who is responsive to the moral convictions of the majority of the American people, let alone protecting the rights of the minority. I pray God that someday we shall.

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.