The Public Policy

The President Stands Up for Life

Not potential life, but life with potential.

By 7.20.06

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With the stroke of his veto pen, President Bush took a stand for the integrity of the human person while providing the American people with a fine lesson in the fundamental truth that science serves humanity, not vice versa.

In a press conference at the White House, and joined by 18 families whose children were originally frozen embryos not used by other couples, the President vetoed legislation that would overturn his previous policy allowing federal funding of research only on human embryonic stem cell lines derived from embryos that had been destroyed prior to the announcement of that policy. At that time, five years ago, the Bush Administration made available over $90 million for research on these lines, the first administration ever to make federal funds available for this purpose.

Recognizing the challenge of promoting science to alleviate human suffering, "without sanctioning the practices that violate the dignity of human life," President Bush insisted that the bill "would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others."

"It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it, " said the President.

The President was explicit in grounding his decision on the fundamental integrity of all human persons: "Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value." He noted that each of the children attending the press conference was adopted while still an embryo, "and has been blessed with the chance to grow up in a loving family."

"These boys and girls are not spare parts," said President Bush. "They remind us of that [which] is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research. They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells. And they remind us that in our zeal for new treatments and cures, America must never abandon our fundamental morals."

As Congressman Henry Hyde (R-IL) once said, unborn children are not potential human life, but life with potential.

The President noted that if the bill he vetoed would have become law, "American taxpayers would, for the first time in our history, be compelled to fund the destruction of human embryos. And I'm not going to allow it...I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line."

President Bush also described the temptations that modern science presents as it continues to unlock "the secrets of human biology." That is, "it also offers the temptations to manipulate human life and violate human dignity. Our conscience and history as a nation demand we resist this temptation."

Citing the Declaration of Independence and its recognition of the equality of all Americans, predicated on the inalienable right to life, he made it clear that "We can advance the cause of science while upholding this founding promise...without becoming slaves to technology."

"And we can ensure that science serves the cause of humanity instead of the other way around," said the President.

The President clearly views human beings as ends in themselves, not means to other ends, or other people's ends, no matter how laudable. He also recognizes that the fundamental truth is that a human being is a human being, even at the earliest stages of development. The complete genetic and physical package is distinctly human from the get-go. Society must recognize its obligations to protect, nurture, and sustain this life which is human in reality, not just in name, even at these early stages.

In demonstrating his willingness to draw a moral line in the sand, President Bush courageously challenged the corrupting nihilism and moral relativism that has engulfed so much of Western society both in Europe and North America. His rhetoric seized the high ground, expressing principled thinking on morality and its role in the public square. In this sense, his clarity is bracing, indeed.

The President was also pleased to make a preemptive strike on the Brave New World by signing the Fetus Farming Prohibition Act sponsored by Senators Santorum and Brownback, which passed with strong support in Congress. Most Americans cannot imagine the prospect of trafficking in human fetuses that are created with the intent of aborting them in order to harvest their parts. Neither can the President.

"Human beings are not a raw material to be exploited, or a commodity to be bought or sold, and this bill will help ensure that we respect the fundamental ethical line," said the President.

Prospects are good that the President's veto will be sustained. Nevertheless, the President's eloquent articulation of the fundamental philosophic and ethical principles involved in the matter of embryonic stem cell research is a tremendous contribution to the public dialogue regarding the best way to re-establish and maintain a culture of life in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.