Which candidates are pro-life?

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April 21, 2004
President Bush, despite his oft-stated desire to re-establish a "culture of life" in this country, nevertheless seems to be as conflicted on the life issues as a large portion of the population. For instance, his stated "pro-life" position is contradicted by his justification of abortion for babies conceived through rape or incest.

When the opportunity arose for him to exercise presidential leadership by prohibiting stem cell research on human embryos, each of whom is a living human being — a human subject entitled to protection from harmful scientific experimentation as called for in the Nuremberg Code of Medical Ethics — he instead established a policy allowing taxpayer-funding of experiments on a limited number of stem cell lines derived from embryos who were already dead prior to August 9, 2001 and prohibiting the use of federal funds for the killing of more human embryos for experimentation. Despite his expressed conviction that human life "is a sacred gift from our Creator," he arrived at the conclusion that those who were killed before August 9 had a lesser value than those who might be killed after that date. His decision opened the door to what is rapidly becoming an orgy of eugenic scientific license.

The destiny of the human embryo has been looming large over the Bush administration since its inception. When there is no clear-cut standard by which human life is valued, when there is allowed to exist a debate over who has a right to live and who does not, when the prevailing attitude is pro-life-with-exceptions, decisions related to human embryo experimentation and human cloning call for the establishment of — yes, you guessed it — a commission. The President's Council on Bioethics was formed by Executive Order of the President and is chaired by University of Chicago professor Dr. Leon Kass. The council is made up of members from divergent philosophical and scientific points of view. Their job is to come up with recommendations to the President on bioethical issues of the utmost significance to the future of humanity. Based on the Council's recent Report to the President, released on April 1, 2004, they are attempting to do this by reaching agreement or consensus.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once famously said about developing consensus: "To me consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects, the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner 'I stand for consensus?' "

The Council's Report is frightening. Cardinal William H. Keeler, chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a statement released on April 1, pointed out two very serious flaws: 1) " the Council favors banning the use of embryos in research beyond a certain number of days in their development." [Said another way, the Council recommends allowing experiments on embryonic human beings up to a certain number of days after conception], and, 2) "the Council recommends a ban on ‘conceiving a child' using procedures such as cloning, or the use of eggs derived from fetal tissue or embryonic stem cells. However, ‘conceiving a child' according to the Council means only the act of creating an embryo ‘with the intent to transfer it to a woman's body to initiate a pregnancy.'" A complete ban on human cloning for any purpose, including that of scientific experimentation, is absent from the Report.

Cardinal Keeler's statement further explains the problem: "A cloning ban based on what a researcher may ‘intend' to do with an embryo after cloning occurs is, first of all, unenforceable. More importantly, it misstates where the wrong lies in such procedures. Human cloning is wrong because it treats human life as an object of manufacture — not because a researcher, having created the embryonic human, may 'intend' to allow him or her to survive. These procedures should simply be banned."

Members of the Council who might have been expected to cut through the confusing rhetoric in the Report and simply call for a total ban on the creation and use of human beings for experimentation, instead issued a disappointing statement that was collegial, courteous, cautious and in keeping with efforts to build "consensus," expressing "grave concerns about research that destroys human embryos at any stage of their development."

On the same day the Report by the President's Council on Bioethics was released, another event took place in the White House, where President Bush signed into law the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as "Laci and Conner's Law," for the mother and unborn child who were victims of a crime committed in California of which Laci Peterson's husband Scott, stands accused. National Right to Life Committee described the scene in a release, noting that the President was "surrounded by the parents and grandparents of those who died in two-victim crimes," and quoting the President who said, "As these and other families understand, any time an expectant mother is a victim of violence, two lives are in the balance, each deserving protection, and each deserving justice." "If the crime is murder and the unborn child's life ends, justice demands a full accounting under the law."

Well said, Mr. President. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, while it applies only to federal crimes and exempts abortion, was a long time coming and the fact that it is now a law is a step, however small, in the right direction. But the question remains, what about protection and justice for the tiniest humans?

Does the killing of a human embryo not do violence to the tiny victim? Is that embryonic life not a gift of the Creator God? Is he or she not deserving of protection – of justice? Is that life somehow more valuable when made up of one hundred, or one thousand, or one million cells than at the very earliest stage of development? Does it really take a council or commission to figure this out?

The "unborn child" referred to by the President in his remarks on April 1 can no longer be considered in just the light of his or her life in the womb. Years of unrestricted assisted reproduction have led to the creation of unborn children who have never and will never reside in a womb. Instead, while reportedly one million embryonic babies engendered in IVF laboratories have been implanted and ultimately born, at least a half-million more are currently living suspended in a frozen state in tanks of liquid nitrogen. Where is the protection – where is the justice for them?

Aside from the moral and ethical objections to embryonic stem cell research and human cloning, from a practical perspective there is absolutely no evidence that stem cells from human embryos can or will cure any disease or treat any condition. In fact, the positive results of stem cell experiments derive solely from the use of adult stem cells, or stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood, placentas, human fat and other sources.

Already, it is legal in New Jersey to clone and experiment on human embryos and has authorized the commercial marketing of embryonic or fetal tissue. California allows experiments on embryos until 14 days after fertilization. The door that was cracked by the President's decision on August 9, 2001 has been blown wide open. It appears unlikely that The President's Council on Bioethics will even make an effort to close the door. America will lead the world in ethical and moral scientific research that is respectful of all human life only if President Bush displays principled and determined leadership that stems from his stated belief that unborn babies deserve protection and justice under the law.

Republican National
Coalition for Life

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