All of this was suffused with bad faith. Ron Reagan's pandering to the false hopes of desperate families was disgusting. Moreover, Bush didn't ban embryonic stem cell research - he regulated federal funding of it. Public funding of adult stem cell research and private embryonic stem cell research were left untouched.
Meanwhile, an article in the May/June issue of Foreign Policy by Robert L. Paarlberg, reports that America is still leading the world in embryonic stem cell research. Many European countries - which were supposed to have eaten our lunch in this area - actually have vastly more restrictive laws than our own. There's been virtually no brain drain of American scientists fleeing to more hospitable climes, while thousands of European scientists have fled their own bureaucratic and restrictive lands to work in America. Pharmaceutical and biotech R&D investment is flying into the United States. And many states, led by California, are spending billions to make up for the perceived shortfall from the feds.
This is the great irony of the whole debate. What offends some liberals is that the federal government isn't involved - and the federal government should do whatever they think is good. Leaving this to the states and the private sector is just too unsatisfying. Meanwhile, some pro-life conservatives who would like to see a far more comprehensive ban on the practice are largely powerless to affect the course of the research at all now that it's out of Washington's hands.
And that's as it should be. Federalism - sending tough issues to the lowest, most local levels possible - is the best compromise one can ask for when dealing with such issues. The alternative is to ask the federal government almost literally to split the baby. Sure, more federal funding might advance the science a bit faster. But the current system has one great advantage. It doesn't force people who think human life is precious to pay for its destruction.