I was extremely pleased earlier this week when President Bush vetoed a bill providing for increased federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. (Although I was not so pleased that this was his first veto; there have been plenty of worthy predecessors.) The veto has, of course, provided an occasion to organize a parade of the usual half-truths, cynical manipulations, and inept science journalism that have plagued this issue for twenty years.
What I have not seen widely reported (aside from some great work by KJ Lopez at NRO), and what I find much more revealing, is that on the same day the Senate passed the measure they already knew was doomed, they also passed an alternative bill sponsored by Rick Santorum that provided funding for adult and cord blood stem cell research -- and that the House derailed this effort at the eleventh hour at the behest of Mike Castle, R-DE. How long will ESCR supporters be able to deny potentially life-saving treatments before Nancy Reagan understands that she's backing the wrong horse, so to speak?
Here's the dirty little secret of the stem cell controversy: the researchers who want to investigate the properties of embryonic stem cells are not interested in them because of their therapeutic potential. They are interested in embryonic stem cells because they are curious about basic questions of cellular biology, which have no immediate applicability to human health.
Now these researchers would certainly not be the first to overplay the practical potential of the lab work they want the federal government to pay for. That's the way the grant game is played, I've played it myself, and I'm not holding researchers in any particular low esteem because they're playing it now. But where is the skeptical watchdog press here? In any other instance the shouts of Cui bono? would be deafening.
The supporters of ESCR can try to make a case that it's the federal government's job to subsidize this curiosity; it's not an argument I will ever buy, because the destruction of innocent human life is per se wrong in my world view, and no utilitarian calculus can ever justify it. But let's stop parading the paraplegics and Parkinson's patients for the cameras, shall we? It's dishonest, and it's cruel.