Thomas Jefferson once called it "sinful and tyrannical" to use taxes to support ideas opposed by taxpayers. I can only imagine what he would say about using tax dollars to support experiments on human embryos. But that's precisely what our government has been doing.
Despite horrified opposition by millions of Americans, your tax dollars are being used to fund research on fetal stem cells--and, to make matters worse, we don't even know if this research will even provide any health benefits.
The target of the research is human "stem cells"--the building blocks that develop into every kind of human tissue. Some scientists believe that stem cells can help them treat diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes.
Current law allows tax dollars to fund stem-cell experiments so long as the stem cells are "harvested" from human embryos with private money. In fact, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, recently indicated that the National Institutes of Health would continue to accept grant applications for fetal-tissue research until March 15 of this year.
Well, last week, one organization dedicated to the adopting and implanting of otherwise abandoned embryos filed a lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health, demanding that all such grants be halted. It's one lawsuit we ought to be happy to see. But it shouldn't take a lawsuit to solve this problem.
Some members of the science community give the impression that stem-cell research (and cloning for that matter) is just a matter of time and progress. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, long before we were introduced to Dolly, the cloned sheep, Germany had banned cloning altogether. The German people learned only too well the horrors that come from flirting with eugenics and human experimentation. They remember the Nazi era. And make no mistake--that's exactly what human embryo research amounts to.
Not surprisingly, Germany has adopted some of the most restrictive policies for conducting human scientific research in the world. And the Bush administration ought to follow suit. If we fail to learn from past mistakes, we may be forced to learn by repeating Germany's horrors.
It is simply irresponsible for this country to leap into uncharted biomedical terrain without taking all necessary steps to avoid crossing the line into a Brave New World where human life is created in the test tube. Before we consider supporting this kind of research, we need to investigate alternative sources of stem cells that don't require destroying a human being.
And in addition, we need to know whether or not stem cell research will even produce the benefits hoped for. In fact, a major study released last week reports that fetal tissue implants not only failed to produce benefits in Parkinson's patients, but 15 percent of the cases treated experienced horrifying side effects.
Chances are we won't be able to stop private experimentation. But, at the very least, this administration can guarantee that public funds will not be used to support experiments that are repugnant to the moral traditions of Western civilization. Ultimately, experiments that cheapen the value of human life will take us to a place where angels fear to tread--and so should we.
Thomas Jefferson, "A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, vol. 2, p. 545 (1950).
Dawn McKeen, "Stem Cell Research Takes a Hit," Salon magazine.
"On Human Embryos and Stem Cell Research: An Appeal for Legally and Ethically Responsible Science and Public Policy," http://www.stemcellresearch.org/statement.htm