By Patricia Pitkus Bainbridge
Director, Respect Life Office
It was the evening of August 9, 2001. Many of us were waiting apprehensively for President Bush’s much-anticipated announcement regarding what he was going to do about the existing ban on Federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Would he retain the ban thereby taking a stand for the dignity of all human beings—even the smallest among us? Would he lift the ban only for embryos that were destined for death? Or would he revoke the ban totally which would then force taxpayers to fund the deliberate destruction of human beings at their earliest stage of development?
As I waited for his live televised response, I prayed that he would make the morally correct choice and keep the ban in place. His decision was actually a surprise—for me, at least. He decided that the Federal government would fund research on the 62 cell lines from embryos that were destroyed before August 9, 2001. Federal funding would not be allocated for cell lines obtained from embryos destroyed after that date, but he allowed funding in those situations “where the life and death decision has already been made.”
It would be unthinkable to even contemplate sanctioning experimentation on a two-year old who would deliberately be killed for that specific purpose. Can you imagine someone saying, well the death decision has already been made, so let’s experiment on her? I pray no one would consider that a morally permissible act. There is no moral difference between deliberately killing a five-day-old embryo, a 16-week-old fetus, a two-year-old toddler, a six-year-old, a 15-year- old, or an 85-year-old. All innocent human life has value regardless of his or her developmental stage.
Ken Conner, then-president of the Family Research Council, said this, “Moral principles are not divisible. Killing human embryos for research is wrong in every instance. The President is only stepping deeper into the moral morass.”
A word from our Holy Father
In March of this year, Pope Benedict XVI (while addressing participants in the 12th General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life) commented, “Therefore, the magisterium of the Church has constantly proclaimed the sacred and inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural end. This moral judgment also applies to the origins of the life of an embryo even before it is implanted in the mother’s womb, which will protect and nourish it for nine months until the moment of birth: ‘Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth.’”
The door was opened
Once President Bush gave Federal government sanction to embryonic stem cell research (no matter how limited) the door was open. Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, remarked that getting a “foot in the door” was an important step. As philosopher Michael Novak commented, “Giving away the principle means the next surrender is much, much easier . . . There’ll be enormous pressure now to widen this research.”
And, of course that’s exactly what happened. On July 18 of this year—after years of work behind the scenes, the Senate passed, by a vote of 63 to 37, HR 810 (the Stem Cell Research enhancement Act of 2005) which would greatly expand Federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. No longer would such research be limited to the pre August 9, 2001 existing stem cell lines. Instead, any “left over” embryos from in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures would be eligible for experimentation and destruction.
There was a lot of talk from a number of Senators about “ethical” procedures and “consent” by the “donors.” But, there is nothing ethical about parents giving consent to scientists to destroy their very tiny daughters and sons.
President Bush vetoed HR 810 the next day and the House of Representatives sustained the veto. At least for now, additional federal tax dollars will not be used for the destruction of very early human life.
The President’s veto was “courageous” because a great deal of political pressure had been put on him not to veto the bill. In addition to powerful members of his own party, Bush was lobbied by a number of state governors including—not surprisingly—Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich); many medical charities; a number of high profile individuals and groups; and a number of individuals with family members with debilitating diseases and conditions.
“Snowflakes” in attendance
On July 19, 2006 the East Room of the White House was packed with more than 200 people who came to hear the President announce the veto. Among those 200 were 18 families who had adopted “spare” frozen embryos left over from IVF procedures.
The picture below shows President Bush holding Trey Jones of Cypress, Texas. Trey is one of the “snowflake” babies—as they are affectionately called—who was frozen soon after he came into being. He was adopted, implanted in his mother’s womb, and was born a year ago.
In his comments, the President spoke about the “snowflake” babies:
Yet we must also remember that embryonic stem cells come from human embryos that are destroyed for their cells. Each of these human embryos is a unique human life with inherent dignity and matchless value. We see that value in the children who are with us today. Each of these children began his or her life as a frozen embryo [sic] that was created for in vitro fertilization, but remained unused after the fertility treatments were complete. Each of these children 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. They remind us of what 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.
These were wonderful, truthful comments about the children. If only the President’s speech writers hadn’t missed the important point that the children did not begin their lives as frozen embryos. Each began his or her life in a petri dish at the time of fertilization and then they were frozen. It’s an important point not to be missed.
The bad news
The bad news, of course, is as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, stated, “The research is going to occur with federal funding or without.” And let’s remember that research with those 62 cell lines created prior to 2001 is still being funded by the Federal government.
In addition, taxpayers in a number of states (currently: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey) will also be paying for their state’s research programs involving the destruction of tiny humans.
In July 2005, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich issued an executive order for $10 million of taxpayer money to be used for embryonic stem cell and cloning research. Blagojevich issued an executive order for another $5 million (for further destruction of young human life) one day after Bush issued his veto of HR 810.
Let’s not forget that while some citizens may not be forced to pay for embryonic stem cell research and “therapeutic” cloning, neither (tragically) is prohibited by Federal law. The door is open and it will not be closed easily if at all.