EDITORS’ NOTE: The following statement was issued Aug. 10 by Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in reaction to President Bush’s Aug. 9 announcement on stem cell research.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–I am deeply disappointed that the president has decided to federally fund embryonic stem cell research on the tissue obtained from already aborted babies. I fear that this first halting step in the direction of embryonic stem cell research will build pressure to cross the important moral barrier barring the killing of more embryos to obtain their stem cells. We must always remember that these existing stem cell lines are fundamentally different than parts of a human being, such as a kidney or a heart. These stem cells are the essential, foundational building blocks of an entire human being whose life was lost before his or her stem cells were harvested.
Having said that, the president is to be commended for a reflective, thoughtful speech to the nation in which he admirably summarized the complex issues at play in this debate and used the “bully pulpit” of the presidency to champion the humanity of human embryos. The president did maintain his campaign promise to not provide federal funding for research that would cause the destruction of human embryos. Despite enormous pressure from the media and many in the scientific community as well as members of Congress, the president held the critically important line of defending the lives of our tiniest citizens for whom “the life-and-death decision’ has not already been made. It would have been devastating to the nation and to the president had he crossed that line.
The good news is that we have a president who did not make this decision based on political calculation, because politically this decision is nonsensical in that it deeply disappoints many of his fervent pro-life supporters without satisfying most of his critics. Clearly, this was a decision the president made after much prayer and reflection according to the dictates of his own moral and spiritual compass. The bad news is that I, like many pro-lifers, disagree with the decision. However, I personally believe that it is the most pro-life decision that any American president would have made facing this issue in the last half-century. Certainly it is a far more pro-life decision than his opponent in last year’s election would have made.
Pro-life Americans should be tremendously encouraged by the president’s announcement of a presidential council on stem cell research to be chaired by Dr. Leon Kass. Dr. Kass, an observant Jew, has a very strong record on these issues and on issues respecting core human values. I hope and pray that this President’s Council on Bioethics will be the first step toward a federal bioethics commission that would be modeled on the enormously successful Atomic Energy Commission, which kept America from being exposed to the dangers of Chernobyl-type, fast-breeder reactors. Without such a commission, composed of scientific and ethics experts nominated by the president, confirmed by the Senate and accountable to the people’s elected representatives to oversee research in areas such as stem cells, cloning and genetic engineering, we will sooner rather than later face Chernobyl-like biological catastrophes in which we will be confronted with heart-rending, Frankenstein-like results of unregulated and unsupervised experimentation on human lives.