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Stems of Life

Congress showed courage and independence in passing legislation that would have significantly eased conditions for federal funding of stem-cell research. Sadly, President Bush yielded to his own worst instincts, both political and moralistic, in choosing to veto the bill. It was the first veto of his presidency, allowing him to please his rightwing base and present himself once again as the lone cowboy standing against the tide. And Congress, it appeared, did not have sufficient courage or independence to override the veto.

The president’s opposition to the use of discarded embryos for stem-cell research puts him at odds not just with the scientific community but also with the overwhelming majority of the American public, according to opinion polls.

No less troubling, it puts him at odds with plain logic. The embryos that could be used for research under the bill he vetoed are those produced by couples in fertility treatment but then slated for disposal. Banning their use in scientific research will not save the lives of these discarded bundles of cells. It will, however, prevent them from saving other lives.

When the president first presented his compromise position on stem-cell research in August 2001, allowing research on cell lines that had already been extracted from embryos, it appeared to offer a satisfactory way to square the circle and permit research to proceed. Five years later, we now know that the promise was illusory; the existing lines did not provide enough cells to move the science forward. We also know more about the lifesaving potential of such research. It’s time for the president and Congress to remove the roadblocks and let the work proceed.

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