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When Moralism-Lite Meets Religious Persecution

When Moralism-Lite Meets Religious Persecution

Op-Ed by Andrew Jones

When President George W. Bush vetoed the H.R. 810 Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act last week, he over-stepped this country’s fundamental division between church and state. In his rejection of the Act, Bush espoused the view that stem cell research crosses the “moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect.” But what and whose morals is Bush speaking of? An August 2005 Pew survey showed that 57% of Americans are in favor, and 30% are against stem cell research that may lead to medical cures. Further, a July 2006 Gallup poll shows 60% of Americans support using stem cells derived from human embryos for medical research and 61% consider the research “morally acceptable.” Thus, President Bush cannot claim to defend the moral boundary of the United States. So, what explains the use of his first presidential veto?

When President Bush couches the stem cell debate in moralistic terms, and uses rhetoric such as “these lives are not raw material to be exploited,” he leaves himself open to accusations of hypocrisy and double standards. If Bush’s moral ideology was so profoundly against stem cell research, he wouldn’t have allowed the private funding of stem cell research to continue. In August 2001, he continued to allow the federal funding of research on stem cell lines already in existence prior to August 9, 2001, reinforcing his obfuscated morality. Graeme Laurie, a UK expert on the legal side of medicine, argues derisively that “it is a strange morality that pins the moral status and life of the embryo on the question of who is paying for the research.” This moralism-lite suggests a deeper issue at work.

Biologically, Bush hides behind the claim that “science which destroys life in order to save life” is ethically barbarous. Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) concurs with the President, arguing that “this 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.” Here, the term “pro-life” is deliberately misleading. Currently, fertility clinics across the US house around 400,000 frozen embryos, by-products of in-vitro fertilizations. These embryos are eventually destroyed. Thus, the “dismemberment” of these “living, distinct human beings,” as Tom DeLay put it, needs to be put in its true context. Rational thinking surely suggests that potential cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes are more important than frozen embryos scheduled for the trash can. In his selfishness, Bush is allowing the US to fall behind Europe and Asia’s stem cell programs, provoking anxiety over a “brain drain.” This vital research could proceed at “warp speed” with federal funding according to Dr. Evan Snyder, professor and director of the stem cell research program at the Burnham Institute for Medical Research in San Diego.

Hence, it appears that Bush’s stem cell veto is more focused on catering to an extremist single-issue minority, than on moralistic or medical considerations. However, a Dark Age mentality could spell trouble for a Republican Party patently split on an issue that in May 2005 only 12% of Americans followed closely. Indeed, 51% Republican public support for stem cell research illuminates Bush’s gamble. This is a wedge issue which could splice the GOP in two. The $150 million in stem cell research grants pledged by Governor Schwarzenegger of California demonstrates this. By pandering to the Catholic Church, whose Missouri Catholic Conference has absurdly forced state office candidates to return contributions from a pro-stem cell research non-profit organization, Bush is guilty of the religious persecution of scientists and Americans who need his help.

The President has approached a seemingly common-sense issue from a nonsensical perspective – a vote-winning gamble sugar-coated in transparent religio-moralistic rhetoric. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has contended that “America has room for both faith and science. Thank God for that.” Now is the time for Bush to prove it, on behalf of the sick and disabled, not on behalf of votes. After all, it is only right and moral Mr. President.


University of St. Andrews, UK

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