But as Krauthammer also noted, Bush wasn’t vindicated simply for pushing for scientific alternatives, but for his willingness to take a moral stand. “What Bush got right was to insist, in the face of enormous popular and scientific opposition, on drawing a line at all, on requiring that scientific imperative be balanced by moral considerations,” he concluded.
Fifteen years ago this month, President George W. Bush announced he was issuing a moratorium on the future spending of federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. He would later refer to this as one of the most consequential “Decision Points” (the title of his autobiography) of his presidency.
While his presidential legacy is much debated, science has already vindicated his decision to end the destruction of embryos and to pursue alternative methods of medical advancement.
A brief science backgrounder: Despite public confusion, stem cells are not embryos; they are the types of cells that can differentiate into one or more of the types of cells of an organism’s body. Because of this, medical researchers have long been eager to use stem cells to allow healthy new cells to replace or repair damaged tissues and as a result, offer great promise for individuals suffering from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, and a range of other conditions.
The debate over stem cells concerns the derivation of them, namely whether or not they require the destruction of human embryos or if they come from elsewhere (such as adult stem cells) and to what extent they may or may not be used for the purposes of regenerative medicine.
While critics of Bush’s policy were eager to label him as “anti-science,” tone deaf, and unsympathetic to folks like Christopher Reeve (who they claimed would be able to walk again with the aid of embryonic stem cells), other prominent figures, including leading scientists and ethicists, urged both caution in the destruction of life in its earliest stages and also pushed for other means to be pursued that they believed could be just as effective.