Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Quality vs. Quantity and the Nature of Morality

Last summer, I wrote two columns in this space about stem cell research and federal policy. In one, I called on Congress to pass and President Bush to sign a bill enhancing federal support for the groundbreaking research. In the other, I commended Senator Bill Frist, a surgeon by trade, for breaking with the President and changing his stance to support the program.

The last two days have seen a great high and a terrible low for those who support scientific and medical research. First the Senate passed an already approved House bill to expand support for stem cell research. Then, today, President Bush vetoed the legislation in a heartless act that all but shuts the door on this critical research for at least another year. With the bill falling just a few votes short of a veto-proof two-thirds majority in both houses, it is highly unlikely that the veto will be overridden, and therefore the bill will not become law.

While stem cell research would not guarantee a panacea for all of the world's ills, diseases, and pains, it does open up new doors and offers the best chance for finding treatments and cures for diseases like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and others. How President Bush can morally justify denying this kind of research is beyond me. He claims that his action is moral, that he is defending the lives of fetuses, but this is not the case. Stem cell research would have no effect on the number of abortions in this country. Instead, this action trades actual lives for potential lives.

Of course, this should come as no surprise from an administration that backs what they call a "culture of life" and what has more accurately been called a "culture of birth." The President has long been a supporter of birth, and his stance against abortion is well known. Unfortunately, he often ignores life after that point. Another stand he is well known for is being a staunch supporter of the death penalty, allowing over 150 executions while serving as governor of Texas. This presents a bizarre dichotomy for a man who claims to be in favor of preserving life at all costs. And on top of that, with this veto, Bush declares that only the quantity of life, not its quality, matter to him.

President Bush today, for the first time in his term in office, used the veto power given to him. Congress should return the favor and use its override power and allow this critical, groundbreaking, lifesaving research to go forward with federal support.