The Kansas City Star, editorializing about the president's threat to veto the stem cell bill passed by the House, described human embryos as the "excess products of fertility procedures." The Los Angeles Times, contemptuous of the president's ethical misgivings, declared: "It's not a choice between a human life and an embryo's life. It's a choice between real human lives and a symbolic statement about the value of an embryo."
The New York Times and others object that majorities in public opinion polls support this research. Is that how we should evaluate moral claims? Majorities also support the judges Bush has nominated, and yet the Times has gone gooey for the "rights" of minority senators and the sanctity of the filibuster.
Critics of the president's position frequently charge that Bush is influenced by religious belief and that, therefore, his objections to stem cell research are illegitimate. The New York Times is the master of this argument. In an editorial titled "The President's Stem Cell Theology," the paper asserts that "his actions are based on strong religious beliefs on the part of some conservative Christians, and presumably the president himself. Such convictions deserve respect, but it is wrong to impose them on this pluralistic nation."
Let's have a show of hands: Who thinks the New York Times would object to a president who, say, endorsed unrestricted immigration on moral grounds? Would the Times chide such a president for imposing his private religious sentiments on "this pluralistic nation"? Hardly.
It isn't moral reasoning the Times and other liberal organs dislike, it is moral reasoning that threatens to pinch. Advocates of unlimited stem cell research believe or hope that this science will bring early cures to diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's. Everyone hopes for such breakthroughs -- though level-headed scientists caution against overly optimistic expectations from this line of inquiry. Yet morally serious people cannot focus only on the imagined cures and ignore the hard facts about destroying or cloning human embryos.
The suggestion, repeated so often in the press, that only conservative Christians oppose stem cell research, is simply false. One influential voice against the practice belongs to William Kristol. As editor of The Weekly Standard, he has offered moral objections to stem cell research, euthanasia, abortion and other assaults on the sanctity of life. Kristol is Jewish, but his arguments are couched in non-sectarian -- indeed, in non-religious -- terms.