At first glance, President George Bush's August 9 announcement about federally funded stem-cell research looked an awful lot like Bill Clinton's 1999 decision. By wriggling through a loophole, both presidents avoided crossing the 1995 congressional ban on funding research that required the destruction of embryos. Both plans fund research on stem-cells derived from previously destroyed embryos.

But there is a significant difference: Clinton's plan created an ongoing incentive for private suppliers to destroy more embryos to supply federally funded researchers; the Bush plan limits the federal funding to the 60 existing lines of embryonic stem cells—and, of course, the morally licit adult and umbilical cord stem cells.

The Family Research Council's Ken Connor reminds us that seeking to reap a therapeutic harvest from illicitly derived stem cells is still "the fruit of the poisonous tree" and puts the President "on the wrong side of the principle." Then again, President Bush has actually pulled our society a few feet back up the slippery slope the Clinton administration put us on. And given the realities and pressures of this debate—in which high-profile conservative Republicans like Senator Orrin Hatch joined the opposition—we can give Bush's compromise two cheers.

But we give three cheers to his choice of advisers. Further decisions will be made in connection with a "a president's council to monitor stem-cell research." The council is to be headed by medical ethicist Leon Kass, who has most recently distinguished himself in his arguments against human cloning.

Kass is no interloper on scientific turf. He is a University of Chicago-trained surgeon with a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Harvard. But unlike many scientists in this debate, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.