Scott Tibbs

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Bush crafts a wise compromise on stem cell research

During the 2000 election, President George W. Bush promised to be "a uniter, not a divider". The President's promise was sorely tested with the controversy over federal funding for stem-cell research. With the debate deeply mired in abortion politics, it appeared that no matter what decision the President made, a significant portion of the American people would strongly disagree with it.

Supporters of federal funding argue that a newly created embryo is not a person and does not deserve protection under the law. They find it offensive that we would protect "a blob of cells" over the potential to find cures for born people. Opponents of stem-cell research (of which I am one) argue that life begins at fertilization, and that the new life created at fertilization should be protected. These pro-lifers fervently oppose destruction of human embryos.

But on August 9th, President Bush fashioned a compromise on stem-cell research that addressed the concerns of both sides of this divisive issue. Bush allowed federal funding for 60 existing stem cell lines, so that research could be performed and cures might possibly be found for things like devastating spinal cord injuries. However, the President also banned federal funding for any research that will destroy any more human embryos.

Pro-life forces make a strong case against destroying embryos for stem cell research. Biologically, once an egg is fertilized, a new life is created, with a completely new genetic code. Whether an embryo is sitting in a test tube or in a woman's body, all that new life needs is nutrition, shelter, and time to develop through life's various stages. The only difference between a toddler and a human embryo is that the newborn has been allowed the time, shelter and nutrition needed to develop. It is for this reason that I oppose destroying human embryos to collect their stem cells.

The Catholic bishops who strongly criticized Bush for his decision have a good point that we are crossing a very significant moral boundary by using federal tax dollars to fund research on cells that could not have been obtained without killing a human being. This should make all Americans very uncomfortable. However, it is important to note that the embryos destroyed to create existing lines of stem cells are already gone, and banning federal funding to study the stem cells extracted from them will not bring those lives back.

But while President Bush's compromise may (for now) solve the issue of federal funding for stem cell research, the overall issue has just begun. Newly formed human beings can still be legally destroyed for their stem cells using money from the private sector. Pro-life forces in Congress and the White House should begin studying this issue and consider what can be done about the killing that is now legal.

The House showed recently that the votes could be mustered on a controversial bioethical issue with a vote banning cloning of human beings. Even Indiana Congressman Baron Hill, a pro-abortion extremist who voted against the ban on Partial-Birth Abortion, voted for this ban.

While the politics of abortion have clouded the stem cell funding debate, banning the destruction of human embryos by extracting their stem cells is not necessarily directly tied to abortion. In abortion, there is a legitimate concern about the sovereignty of a mother over her own body, and balancing that with the right of her pre-born child to not be killed. But with stem cell research, that concern is not present because the human embryos are in a laboratory, not incubating in another human body.

It's clear that the debate over stem cell research has not even begin, and pro-life forces still have a long way to go in protecting innocent human life. Now, we must organize, lobby and act as a voice for the voiceless and as a defender for the defenseless.