Rest in peace, Mr. President



Bush and the Hypocrisy

Former President Ronald Reagan, in life and in death, moved and inspired millions of Americans. The current President, George W. Bush, says he is one of them.

But there's a big difference between being moved and moving ahead.

If President Bush truly wants to honor the legacy of the nation's 40th President, here is what he should do. He should heed the advice of Mrs. Reagan, 58 U.S. senators, 206 members of the House, and a host of scientists and citizens. The list includes not just liberals but deeply conservative members of Bush's own Republican Party.

He should approve broader federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. And he should do it right now.

Leadership means looking your political base straight in the eye and telling the truth.

In this case, the President needs to sit down with members of his precious religious right and talk to them about stem cells in "sanctity-of-life" terms. He needs to tell them that the number of lives waiting to be saved really does matter.

Abortion, the lightning rod and the litmus test of all things conservative, is being used and abused in this debate.

Stem cells save lives. The hypocrisy of Mr. Bush on this matter slays me.

But an embryo, argues the President, is an emergent human being. Extracting embryonic stem cells requires growing an embryo for five days until it is a tiny colony of about 300 cells. The extraction kills the embryo. Bush believes that is immoral and federal funds should not be used in this kind of research. It is, in essence, the abortion argument.

Here's where the hypocrisy of the right comes in.

What if some new treatment option results from the use of the "approved" embryonic material, if a life is someday saved because, in the President's view, another life has been lost? Is the use of that federally funded discovery immoral too?

Here's what we know.

There are today an estimated 400,000 frozen human embryos stockpiled in fertility clinics across the country. Many of them will never be used. If couples decide to donate them, why can't that be a life-giving gift on behalf of federally supported scientific study? Doesn't that also sanctify life?

Ronald Reagan, in his illness and death, put a public face on Alzheimer's disease. Nancy Reagan has put a face on the bipartisan discussion of why and how we need to rethink embryonic stem-cell research.

On Friday, when Ronald Reagan is memorialized in Washington, what better tribute for the dead and the living than for President Bush to change course on this most important issue.

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