Their View: Hopefully, a similar measure will be allowed soon
It may seem that President Bush's decision to veto an embryonic-stem-cell funding bill was largely symbolic, a show of solidarity with religious conservatives who oppose the research on moral grounds.
After all, the veto bars only federal support of the research, which scientists believe may eventually alleviate such debilitating disorders as Alzheimer's, diabetes and even cardiac disease. Private financing will continue, and as a New York Times story published Wednesday suggested, private donors may grow more generous in the aftermath of the veto. State-funded research will continue as well.
And given the impressive Senate majority that passed the bill and the House's relatively narrow failure to override the veto, it's possible the next Congress might pass a similar measure by a veto-proof margin.
That said, the veto is a serious mistake on several levels.
First, Bush's 2001 executive order that allowed limited federal funding was overhyped and largely ineffectual. Perhaps only a handful of the 60 lines of stem cells authorized for grants at the time have any potential for medical use. Since the president has shown no interest in updating that order, legislation is needed, and the bill struck a proper balance.
It allows federal funding but with those dollars would come a set of ethical guidelines to assure that the only embryos that would qualify for federal grants would be those already scheduled to be destroyed in fertility clinics. In addition, donors would have to consent to the use of their embryos for research.
The guidelines also would ban the creation of embryos to develop human organs or other body parts for harvesting; private labs not under federal supervision might hold few moral qualms about such gruesome practices.
Secondly, the veto leaves in place a troubling status quo. Centers now conducting the research have to segregate federally funded projects from those underwritten by other sources. This has led to the absurd (but apparently necessary) decision by some labs to employ crime-scene tape to separate their federally underwritten experiments from the others.
Finally, at least a half-dozen states are targeting tax dollars to finance stem-cell research. This may be an understandable reaction to Washington gridlock. But a primary justification for using tax dollars to support scientific research is the principle that projects from many disciplines should compete for public funding.
By dedicating a stream of revenues to stem-cell research, states are picking the winners in advance, and denying funds that could underwrite other worthy projects - or simply be returned to taxpayers.
We hope Bush would allow a similar measure to become law next year so that this research can move forward under strict, sensible guidelines.
- Scripps Howard News Service