- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

Set against the background of his family ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush announced his decision to support federal funding for limited, carefully regulated research on existing embryonic stem cells.

The location seemed appropriate, since while the stem cell debate continues within the Beltway, the values that Mr. Bush was torn between the promise of helping others against the perils of devaluing life come from the heartland.

It was, by any account, a difficult choice. On an earlier occasion, Mr. Bush said that such a decision is "way beyond politics," and in his address to the nation he said that he had consulted with religious leaders and researchers, with scientists and scholars, only to find widespread disagreement. To cut this gordian knot, Mr. Bush eventually turned to values, the most important of which was a fundamental respect for life.

"I … believe human life is a sacred gift from our Creator," the president affirmed Thursday night. He proclaimed his revulsion at the thought of "creating life for our convenience," especially with regard to human cloning. Going even further, Mr. Bush properly disavowed a critical step on a slippery ethical slope by proclaiming "Even the most noble ends do not justify any means."

Mr. Bush could not avoid disappointing everyone. By permitting federal dollars to fund work on existing embryonic cell lines, the president makes everyone a party, even if in a limited way, to the destruction of living cells. Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke for many when he said, "The federal government, for the first time in history, will support research that relies on the destruction of some defenseless human beings for possible benefit to others."

Mr. Bush was under considerable pressure to go much further. Indeed, many Democrats seem determined to hammer a heart-felt question of conscience into a wedge of political pressure. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle promised that "the Senate will want to take action" on the president's limitations, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt accused Mr. Bush of doing the "bare minimum" to "publicly posture himself with the majority of Americans."

The majority of Americans, who live outside of the Beltway, understand that the difficult decisions necessitated by the continuing technological revolution must be made by conscience instead of political calculation, though politics is the way we make decisions in a democracy where many voices demand to be heard. More importantly, they understand that respect for life must be taught to every generation.

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