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Joe Murray
 You're here » Christian Columns Index » Guest Writer

The Stem Cell Sidestep
by Joe Murray - (AgapePress)
August 1, 2006
Category: Social Issues
THIS BILL," bellowed President Bush, "would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others ... [i]t crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect."

And with a sense of moral clarity that had recently been MIA in the Oval Office, the president issued his first veto striking down H.R. 810, otherwise known as the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act. No sooner had the ink begun to dry and the president was joining 18 families who adopted unused frozen embryos in the East Room to defend his decision. The two dozen children born of those embryos provided the president's backdrop.

Make no mistake, in vetoing H.R. 810 the president utilized some of the strongest pro-life language ever to originate from the White House. It bears repeating again -- the president declared to the nation that embryonic stem-cell research is the "taking of innocent human life," i.e. murder. For the millions of Americans that have dedicated their lives to the pro-life movement, July 19, 2006, was a day to rejoice.

Now that the last piece of confetti has dropped and the last child conceived by means of an unused frozen embryo has walked off the stage, it is time for conservatives to take stock of this victory. Pushing aside the president's rhetoric, what does this veto mean? How many unborn children will be spared? And just how far is this president willing to go to protect those unborn children who are at the mercy of modern science?

If conservatives take the president at his word, Bush has made a major shift in public policy, for he has equated the harvesting of human embryos for stem cells with the "taking of innocent human life." This is a truth many conservatives have long understood, but many a politician dare not speak.

Such a sentiment was further echoed by White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. Speaking on behalf of the president, Snow thundered, "[t]he president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder. He's one of them." Snow, in order to put the cookies on the bottom shelf, concluded, "[t]he simple answer is: [Bush] thinks murder is wrong."

All of the presidential rhetoric begs this question -- if embryonic stem-cell research is murder, is it safe to assume that the president is working to proscribe all embryonic stem-cell research? Think again.

Four days after Bush made his veto, White House Chief of Staff John Bolten was in the hot seat on NBC's Meet the Press. At issue, not surprising, was what exactly the president meant when he proclaimed that embryonic stem-cell research was the "taking of innocent human life."

Russert wasted no time and asked Bolten point blank: "[Tony Snow] used the word 'murder.' Does the president believe the use of an embryo for stem-cell research is murder?" Bolten, assuming the role of a child thrown into a swimming pool on his first day of lessons, thrashed around and finally muttered this response:

"It's a very delicate and difficult balance that the, that the president has tried to strike here between the, the needs and desires of science and the morals and ethics ... that's why his policy has been not to prevent that research from going forward altogether, but to prevent your tax dollars ... from going to support the destruction of that, that human embryo ... "

A lot of words, but no answer.

Russert, seeing the logical pitfalls surrounding the president's position, pushed Bolten, asking him "if the president believes it is human life, how can he allow private stem-cell research to go forward ..., if, in fact, that is murder?" Bolten's lackluster response:

"It's a very difficult balance ... the president recognizes that there are millions of Americans who don't recognize that as a human life, and that the promise of that research for the saving of life is so important ... that they want that to go forward. What the president has said is that as far as the federal policy is concerned, no federal funds ... will go towards promoting the destruction of that human embryo."

Thus, Bolten's words provided a window into the president's logic, and one could see the president taking a page from Solomon's playbook.

Even more disturbing in Bolten's response is his constant referral to the "balancing" being conducted by the president. If it is believed that an act is murder, what is there to balance against? Murder is murder. Because no interest can outweigh an innocent's right to life, why even bring out the scales?

This author can only guess as to the answer, but it seems Bush has permitted a sliver of relativism to creep into his stem-cell policy. Instead of cloaking his policy in garments of absolute truth, Bush appears to have taken the position that his belief life begins at conception is spiritual, not scientific. He has left the door open that he may be wrong, and therefore his policy would permit some vindication in the off chance he was in error. And because of this, the cries of the unborn children locked in the freezers of America's private clinics fall on deaf ears.

While there is no mistaking the fact that the president's veto was a victory for life, traditionalists must now inform the president that this is not the end of the road. It is our duty to hold this president's feet to the fire; it is our duty to make sure the cries of the unborn are heard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If this president has the moxie to proclaim embryonic stem-cell research is murder, then we conservatives have to make sure he puts his money where his mouth is. We must demand all results and accept no excuses.

One veto that merely stops the expansion of stem-cell research is not even a down payment to the cause of life. Eternal vigilance is what is needed, especially when human life is at issue.

As Tim Russert reminded John Bolten, "[Bush] could take steps to outlaw [private research]." Now that the celebration is over and the veto has been made, this is the new prize which we must set our eyes. Bush created the rhetoric; it is up to conservatives to create the reality.
Joe Murray ( is a civil rights attorney residing in New Jersey. Murray is a former staff attorney for the American Family Association and has also served as national director of correspondence for Patrick J. Buchanan's 2000 presidential bid. Murray has been a guest on numerous radio and television talk shows, including the O'Reilly Factor.

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