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July 19, 2006
Bush Casts First Veto On Embryonic Stem-Cell Funding

George Bush waited 2,006 days to cast the first veto of his presidency, and it comes on an issue for which he has threatened a veto for at least 2006 days. As Congress considered a bill authorizing federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, Bush warned that he would not allow it to become law, and he made good on that promise this afternoon:

President Bush today used the first veto of his presidency to stop legislation that would have lifted restrictions on federally funded human embryonic stem cell research.

"This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others," Bush, speaking at the White House, said after he followed through on his promise to veto the bill. "It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect. So I vetoed it." ...

The Senate voted 63 to 37 yesterday to approve the bill, passed by the House last year, that would expand spending for research on stem cell lines derived from frozen embryos that are stored at fertility clinics and slated for destruction.

Such research is controversial because it holds the promise of finding cures for major diseases, such as Parkinson's, but requires destroying human embryos to extract the cells.

Bush addressed the issue in the White House's East Room surrounded by two dozen families -- including one from Alexandria, another from Ellicott City -- who adopted frozen embryos not wanted by other couples and used the embryos to have children.

This crossed one of the bright lines of Bush's stated policy. However one wants to define this issue, destroying human embryos to fashion treatments amounts to trading one life for another. As Bush said in his veto, these are not spare parts but human life. These embryos contain human DNA and they have grown into multicelluar states, showing life, and life that is undeniably human. I wrote this two years ago:

I believe that life begins within minutes of conception, and that belief is based on science, not faith, although they intersect. Eggs and sperm carry 23 chromosomes, half of the genetic blueprint for human life. Even if other primates have the same chromosome count, the DNA encoding on human eggs and sperm is uniquely human. When the sperm fertilizes the egg, the separate DNA strands combine into 23 pairs of chromosomes and a unique blueprint for a unique human being. Once the cell divides on its own -- usually within a half-hour -- that being is alive, unique, and separate from, though dependent on, its mother.

Some have argued this point for decades. Phil Donahue, years ago, once said on television that a human being in the womb passes through stages where it becomes a fish, then a dog, and so on; this argument arises amongst the ignorant often. Science teaches us that this is folk-tale nonsense. Vertebrates in the womb all pass through similar stages of development, but we are encoded at conception as human, and human we remain from the moment of conception until our death. Our DNA and genetic composition is a fact, not a belief, and cell division demonstrates life, as any biologist will tell you. Facts. Not beliefs.

What to do with this life then becomes a question more of values than of faith. Do we sacrifice innocent human life for the sake of convenience or economics? Throughout the history of Western civilization, we have answered that with a resounding NO. We enact laws, construct family structures, and develop moral and social structures in order to protect and to nurture it. When we have devalued innocent life, Holocausts have resulted, such as the Nazi atrocities (even apart from the Final Solution) of forced abortions and euthanasia of the so-called undesirable elements, such as the sickly, the less intelligent, the handicapped, and the simply different.

Congress wanted to treat human life as a commodity instead of protecting it in all its forms. Bush made the right call in vetoing federal funding for these programs.

Undoubtedly, we will hear plenty from critics that Bush has endangered the health of Americans through his veto, a conclusion bordering on the absurd. Putting aside the fact that we shouldn't grind up humans to save other humans, this veto doesn't ban any kind of research at all. It just makes human embryonic stem-cell (hESC) research ineligible for federal funding. It's not a ban, and in fact that research has never been banned within the US.

The lack of federal funding should make little difference, if the science is sound for hESC. It's not, or at least it isn't commercially viable, which is why researchers want the federal government to pay for it. Pharmaceuticals won't underwrite it because adult stem cells and umbilical-cord stem cells have had much more success. They have produced actual medical treatments, where hESCs have had little real success. California planned on spending $2 billion on ESC, and we have yet to hear of any breakthroughs from that research.
(I wrote about this in September 2004 for the New York Sun.) The lack of private investment in this procedure tells volumes about its value.

Congress may try an override on this veto, but I doubt it will find the necessary votes. The bill only got 63 votes in the Senate on passage, four short of an override. Congress finally found Bush's limits after five and half years in office, and he's not budging.

UPDATE: Congress failed to override the veto, only garnering 235 votes -- 51 fewer than needed.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 19, 2006 3:06 PM

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