Going it alone on stem cells

For supporters of stem cell research, this week brought mixed tidings. The good news: Regents voted unanimously to let University of California President Robert Dynes spread millions of taxpayers’ dollars over campus facilities up and down the state. The move will spur the scientific research approved last year by voters.

Then there was President Bush. The longtime foe of embryonic stem cell research, his resistance owing to religious conviction, followed through on his promise to veto a congressional bill to boost federal funding. The expected decision is everywhere portrayed as anti-scientific, as if the president, given the power of time travel, would have been first among Galileo’s persecutors.

Reasonable stem-cell advocates should back off such an unfair caricature. Throughout Bush’s tenure, reasons certainly mounted to question his spare use of the veto — this, believe it or not, was his first — but his curiously timed nixing of popular legislation occasions some grudging respect.

When was the last time a president introduced such anachronistic morality into the public discourse? Platitudes come easily, so easily in fact that a campaign promise (Walter Mondale) to launch government into the eradication of sadness itself can tilt the compass away from more sober ethics. Bush is no Lincoln, but darned if he doesn’t force careful thought about the brave new world introduced by the new science.

This is a president for whom, if we follow the prompts of so much of the media, the all-purpose response is contempt. But he has drawn on some of the best living ethicists to guide him. We may disagree with him, and his counselors have impeccable counterparts, but we can appreciate the lifehe’s given to the debate.

Safe to say Caroline Kennedy will not any time soon confer a Profile in Courage Award on George W. Bush. But this was a salutary veto, disagree as we might, if only because it makes us think anew about the possibly moral preference for, say, adult stem cells over “harvestable” embryonic ones.

The elation felt in San Francisco from the November 2004 passage of Proposition 71, when California voters authorized $3 billion for stem cell research, should remain undiminished by Bush’s veto. Prepared, the regents acted to allocate up to $1.5 million per campus for facility upgrades. That’s California telling taxpayers from the so-called red states that we don’t need their help, thank you.

We would, however, advise

Dynes and Robert Klein, who oversees the state’s stem cell project, to stop at nothing to thwart the boondoggling of this research. The scientific breakthroughs are too exciting, the benefits to human health too promising, for it to turn into a money pit as well as an ethical morass.

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