Paul Greenberg

It's a juicy prospect for a fast-developing industry: billions in federal grants for experimentation on human embryos.

Experienced grant writers must be revving up their search engines by now, since state grants for such research are already becoming available in states like Connecticut and Illinois and, of course, California, that bellwether of the surreal American future.

This session, Congress got behind this Next Big Thing, voting to expand embryonic stem cell research. But for the moment this rush to experiment on human embryos has been thwarted by a presidential veto, which the House failed to override.

But only for the moment. This is but a pause in the march of scientism, not a stop. After all, it's just one more slight little ethical boundary to be crossed on man's march toward physical and mental perfection, aka The Abolition of Man. That was the title of C. S. Lewis' percipient essay on the subject more than half a century ago.

Didn't this pro-life president himself authorize research on stem cell lines derived from already destroyed embryos? The moral of that story: One step down this slope quickly leads to another.

And yet George W. Bush balked at taking this latest one: "I felt like crossing this line would be a mistake, and once crossed we would find it almost impossible to turn back."

But wouldn't most of these discarded embryos be destroyed anyway? That's the standard argument offered in favor of embryonic research, and it opens up enough ethical questions to fill a talmudic treatise.

Yet all the rationalizations can't quite disguise the line that is being crossed here - for this time the embryos would be destroyed with the encouragement, indeed the monetary incentive, of the American taxpayer. That is, We the People. The ethical responsibility would be ours - not that of a fertility clinic and its clients.

The next ethical ridge to be crossed would then loom ahead: If it's permissible to experiment on embryos destined to be destroyed, why not on terminally ill patients, or prisoners on Death Row, or, well, the list would surely grow.

The case for embryonic experimentation isn't dubious just ethically but scientifically. To quote Robert P. George, a law professor at Princeton who served on the President's Council on Bioethics:

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.