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The Wrong Side of History

On Friday I wrote that the President's Council of Bioethics is largely to blame for the state of U.S. stem cell research. In reality, the power is in the Presidency that formed that council. Had Mr. Bush been interested in a wide spectrum of bioethical opinion, he would have chosen council members accordingly. Leon Kass would have remained a historical footnote - an M.D. who opposed test tube babies, the dissection of cadavers, and organ transplantation. That weird doctor that had some bizarre hangup with the public consumption of ice cream (seriously).

But thanks to the President, Kass is our country's chief spokesman for bioethics. And that's because Kass is saying exactly what the President wants to hear. Initially it was Kass that was condemning the Korean achievement. By Friday the President himself was expressing concerns:

I'm very concerned about cloning. I worry about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable.

Of course this advance has nothing to do with reproductive cloning, as the head of the Korean lab made clear.

The South Korean government, which paid for the new study, has made it a criminal offense to implant a cloned embryo into a woman's uterus," Dr. Hwang said. "It should be banned throughout the world.

But by very publicly expressing "concerns," Mr. Bush is, no doubt, attempting to put pressure on the Korean government to discontinue funding of this research. But condemning another country's research, when its successful, seems...French. Like the sour grapes of a fading power.

We don't want to be that country. The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 would allow federal funding of embryonic stem cell research on embryos left over from fertility treatment. Childless couples often need to produce many embryos in order to have a single baby. When patients choose to discard excess embryos, these embryos will either be discarded as medical waste, or donated to research. This bill would allow federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created from these embryos.

Embryonic stem cell lines derived in this way would not be an exact genetic match for any patient. An exact match would require therapeutic cloning.

In some cases doctors wouldn't want an exact match. If a patient is being treated for genetic problems, they don't need a cloned stem cell line. But more importantly, this bill would would provide scientists with additional legal stem cell lines for funded experimentation.

This bill has bipartisan support. There are 23 Republican co-sponsors, and there is virtually unanimous support among Democrats. Of course the President isn't happy about this:

I made it very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money to promote science which destroys life in order to save life is - I'm against that. And therefore, if the bill does that, I will veto it.

In five years the President hasn't vetoed a single piece of legislation. Not one law has been too odious for the President to sign until now. The President came to office promising a new tone of bipartisan cooperation. World events and backstabbing from the politically fading Democratic party may have intervened to prevent this. But why shouldn't the President take this opportunity to be the big man? Here, finally, is an issue that has broad bipartisan support, holds great medical and economic promise, and yet he's against it.

On this issue the United States is on the wrong side of history. It's not too late to correct this course.

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