Stem-cell research has received significant private funding, and in that private arena, for ethical, moral and government reasons — is where it best should stay.
Stem-cell research is in its infancy, and while many possibilities look promising in theory, there is no guarantee any of them will pan out, and if they do, significant steps are years away.
So President Bush’s veto Wednesday was a good one.
The moral concern has been well discussed. Embryonic stem cells are of interest because they have the potential, with some chemical massaging, to turn into virtually any type of body cell. They might be able to repair cellular damage caused by a number of diseases. But they must be taken from a human embryo.
Supporters of stem-cell research say the embryos were not destined to be babies. But as White House press secretary Tony Snow put it, “the president is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something that is living and making it dead for the purpose of research.”
(If opponents of stem-cell research were perfectly consistent, they would object to common practices at fertility clinics, as some do. But some choose to ignore what has become a common practice that allows couples otherwise unable to conceive the chance to have a child. So the moral question is not as black-and-white as some suggest.)
Secondly, federal funding of many kinds of research is troubling, but it raises special concerns when many Americans have a moral objection to a particular kind of research.
Whether or not one believes destroying embryos to harvest stem cells is tantamount to murder, there’s little question that many Americans do believe it. To use tax money extracted by force from those Americans to pay for a practice they believe is morally wrong, is ethically wrong. For better or worse, tax forms don’t have an “opt-out” section so taxpayers can specify that their money won’t go to stem cells, the Pentagon or whatever.
Whatever some Americans believe about the morality of stem-cell research, however, it will surely be done. Although it is tied up in litigation, California’s government has allocated $3 billion over 10 years — which suffers from the ethical problem identified above but is likely to go forward anyway — for stem-cell research. The federal government, without this vetoed proposal, plans to spend $38 million on embryonic stem-cell research and $571 million on other forms of stem-cell research.
Perhaps most significantly, tens of millions of dollars in private money have already been donated to various institutions for stem-cell research.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett recently announced they were combining forces to create the world’s most lavishly funded philanthropic institution, and, to the best of our knowledge, neither has ethical qualms about stem-cell research.
The entire imbroglio points up some of the problems with relying too heavily on government to fund scientific research. Government funding not only entails taking money by force from taxpayers, it delivers the least bang for the buck and always gets tied up in politics and red tape.
This episode should make more Americans consider more reliance on private funding.
Well, now that he’s found his veto pen, perhaps President Bush will use it more frequently. If he had done so in the past, his first term might not have been characterized by the largest growth in domestic discretionary spending since LBJ.