The Obama Watch

Obama’s Stem Cell Diktat

He won, you lost.

By 3.12.09

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"We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research."
-- President Barack Obama, March 10, 2009

"Bush to allow limited stem cell funding"
-- CNN headline, Aug. 10, 2001

President George W. Bush's Aug. 9, 2001, executive order on federal funding for stem cell research authorized federal taxpayer funding for that research -- including experiments conducted on cells derived from human embryos -- for the first time.

But in that authorization -- which led to hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars being spent on stem cell research -- the President disallowed federal funding for experiments that would result in the destruction of human embryos. It was a political compromise rooted in respect for both sides of the debate.

President Bush gave liberals the federal subsidies they had demanded. At the same time, he showed respect for pro-lifers by refusing to allow their tax dollars to fund the direct destruction of human embryos.

As the headline above shows, even CNN got the story right initially. The president's decision "would allow federal funding of research using existing stem cell lines," CNN reported.

At the time, a lot of pro-lifers were upset with Bush. They had hoped he would ban all embryonic stem cell research, or at least all federal funding for it. In the interest of science, he did neither.

On Tuesday, President Obama overturned Bush's executive order and claimed credit for undoing what he called "a false choice between sound science and moral values." He said, "In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent."

And therein lies the problem with Obama's order. Bush's decision was compromise; Obama's is a diktat.

President Bush listened to all sides of the debate, interviewed scientists, and came to a decision that was based on the need for the government to balance competing beliefs and interests.

"As I thought through this issue I kept returning to two fundamental questions," he said in his 2001 speech. "First, are these frozen embryos human life and therefore something precious to be protected? And second, if they're going to be destroyed anyway, shouldn't they be used for a greater good, for research that has the potential to save and improve other lives?

"I've asked those questions and others of scientists, scholars, bioethicists, religious leaders, doctors, researchers, members of Congress, my Cabinet and my friends. I have read heartfelt letters from many Americans. I have given this issue a great deal of thought, prayer, and considerable reflection, and I have found widespread disagreement."

Seven and a half years later, President Obama chose to disregard entirely the minority view.

"It's a difficult and delicate balance," he said on Tuesday. "And many thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. And I understand their concerns, and I believe that we must respect their point of view.

"But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear. The majority of Americans -- from across the political spectrum, and from all backgrounds and beliefs -- have come to a consensus that we should pursue this research; that the potential it offers is great, and with proper guidelines and strict oversight, the perils can be avoided.

"That is a conclusion with which I agree."

Obama says "we must respect their point of view" and in the next breath says the minority view will have no impact on federal policy. Such callous disrespect for the minority has already become Obama's MO.

"I won. I will trump you on that," Obama said to Republicans who complained about the size of the stimulus bill. To pro-lifers who don't want their tax money to finance the destruction of human embryos, he now says the same thing.

Obama justified this discarding of the minority view by citing the need to separate ideology and science. He proclaimed:

"Now, this order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let's be clear: Promoting science isn't just about providing resources -- it's also about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about letting scientists like those who are here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient -- especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda -- and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology."

He made that statement seconds after saying, "And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society."

It is impossible to "make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology" while simultaneously ruling out funding for human cloning because it is "profoundly wrong." But apparently not for Obama.

Clearly, the president did not remove ideology from the discussion. He simply moved the line. Whereas the destruction of potential human life was the line not to be crossed, now it is "the use of cloning for human reproduction." Why is the latter more "profoundly wrong" than the former? Obama offers no reason. He simply believes it is. The deep reflection evident in Bush's speech is entirely missing from Obama's. His is a declaration of personal belief, not an exercise of painstaking statesmanship.

Adding salt to the wound, the president did not have to do this. Existing funding for stem cell research has led to profound breakthroughs. Two separate possible cures for diabetes have been found, one based on adult stem cells, the other on embryonic stem cells. Research is barreling along, funded by the National Institutes of Health, private investors, European governments and U.S. states. Federally funded embryo-destroying stem cell research would be a drop in the bucket. Why offend the religious beliefs of millions of Americans for such a small contribution?

"When government fails to make these investments, opportunities are missed. Promising avenues go unexplored," Obama said on Tuesday.

It's not about whether the investments are made. It's about who makes them. To the president, it is unacceptable that the federal government not be involved. The federal funding is a moral imperative based on Obama's personal belief that government must do everything it can to promote good in every conceivable arena of life.

And so, pro-lifers must be forced to fund abortions and research that destroys human embryos. It is for the greater good. The government is not in the business of compromise and unity. Its duty is progress, as defined by the president (and public opinion polls). He won the election, so his moral values reign. It's a zero-sum, winner-take-all game. What that means for pro-lifers is simple: You lost; get over it.

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.