At the Edge of the Unknown

Washington was buzzing this weekend over President Bush's speech on Thursday night regarding federal funding of stem cell research. The President's decision not to allow federal funding that would lead to the killing of embryos is, I believe, the defining moment of his presidency thus far. For the first time, in my memory at least, a sitting president has grappled publicly with a critical moral issue and, unapologetically, drawn a line in the sand. Beyond this divide, he said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, we will not trespass. Human life is sacred. Bush's decision took enormous courage. For months, the drumbeat has intensified in the press, the scientific community, and among Hollywood celebrities to allow unrestricted embryonic stem cell research. The prospect of finding miraculous cures to crippling diseases had an almost irresistible attraction. The pull was so strong that pro-life Senators like Orrin Hatch and Bill Frist gave their support for embryonic stem cell research. Imagine! Pro-life Senators advocating the killing of human embryos! Frist, a doctor and informal counselor to the President, floated a trial balloon -- a full-fledged program of embryonic stem cell research. Polls instantly showed that the public strongly favored it, and majorities in the House and Senate favored it as well. There were pressures from Bush's own cabinet to support embryonic research. Now, I've been around long enough to know a steamroller when I see one! What complicated matters was that hardly anyone in the general public understood what was at stake. All they knew was that the President had the capacity to either fund or not fund research that might save Uncle Bob in the nursing home, or, closer to home, might even save them one day. Frankly, I didn't believe any political leader could stand up to such pressure, but Bush did, thoughtfully and prayerfully. And I admire him for it. He's allowing federal funds only for study of stem cell lines already drawn from embryos already dead. He refused any funds for killing of embryos -- which was his campaign promise -- and he has blocked attempts at cloning. Further, he urged support for stem cell research derived from adults, from placentas, and from umbilical cords. I believe this is where the emphasis should rightly be -- where we can make the greatest medical advances without trampling the moral boundaries. Now, I would have preferred an outright ban on stem cell research, but I recognize that politics is "the art of the possible," and that political leaders have to make prudential judgments in the face of strongly divided opinion. In this case, Bush made his decision with one eye on a Congress ready to vote for all-out stem cell research. Had he not allowed the continued research, Congress would have overturned his decision. In fact, that threat still remains, and we can't be complacent. If Mary Tyler Moore, Michael Fox, and Christopher Reeve continue their appeals, the political pressures will only intensify, and Congress could well act. And this is why it's so important for Christians to understand the issues. I hope you'll call BreakPoint today. We'll send you some materials to help you become better informed. We're grateful that the President has held the line, but we can't rely on that indefinitely. To win this fight, we must build a strong Christian consensus to defend the most vital moral principle of all -- the sanctity of human life.


Chuck Colson


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