President Bush’s stem-cell decision was the right one

Science has vindicated his decision to end the destruction of embryos
After President Bush rejected a stem cell bill, he held a news conference with babies born of in vitro fertilization. (Credit Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After President Bush rejected a stem cell bill, he held a news conference with babies born of in vitro fertilization. (Credit Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The following comes from an August 29 Crux article by Christopher White:

Fifteen years ago this month, President George W. Bush announced he was issuing a moratorium on the future spending of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. He would later refer to this as one of the most consequential “Decision Points” (the title of his autobiography) of his presidency.

While his presidential legacy is much debated, science has already vindicated his decision to end the destruction of embryos and to pursue alternative methods of medical advancement.

While critics of Bush’s policy were eager to label him as “anti-science,” tone deaf, and unsympathetic to folks like Christopher Reeve (who they claimed would be able to walk again with the aid of embryonic stem cells), other prominent figures, including leading scientists and ethicists, urged both caution in the destruction of life in its earliest stages and also pushed for other means to be pursued that they believed could be just as effective.

That’s why when Bush made his decision, he also announced that he was doubling federal funding for research to explore alternative methods-and in November 2007, James A. Thomson (along with Shinya Yamanaka), the same scientist to first isolate human embryonic stem cells which sparked this whole debate, announced that he discovered an “embryo-free way to produce genetically matched stem cells.”

Writing in the Washington Post at the time, Dr. Charles Krauthammer, a handicapped doctor (who arguably had the most to gain from any advances from embryonic stem cell therapy) and a one time critic of Bush’s policy, proclaimed: “The verdict is clear: rarely has a president-so vilified for a moral stance-been so thoroughly vindicated.”

Since that time, adult stem cells have been used to grow a beating heart, cure cataracts and reverse blindness, and to treat numerous cancer patients and support individuals with autoimmune diseases. To date, over 1.5 million people have been treated using adult stem cell therapy.

But as Krauthammer also noted, Bush wasn’t vindicated simply for pushing for scientific alternatives, but for his willingness to take a moral stand. “What Bush got right was to insist, in the face of enormous popular and scientific opposition, on drawing a line at all, on requiring that scientific imperative be balanced by moral considerations,” he concluded.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    i remember the New York Times coverage of this as happily breathing a sigh of relief that this block in no way restricted the advancement of research if backed by private funds.

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