Advocates for embryonic stem cell research are pulling out all the stops, hoping President Bush will approve federal funding.
A really big gun was brought out last week when former first lady Nancy Reagan joined two Reagan administration aides - Michael Deaver and Ken Duberstein - in communicating to the president their support for such research.
Nancy Reagan's voice should be heard, given the grace and strength she has shown in taking care of her husband in sickness and in health. But there's one voice that trumps all the rest - that of Ronald Reagan himself. That voice has been absent from the public square since the former president developed Alzheimer's disease, yet he has spoken of the value of human life and the need to protect it at all stages.
President Reagan wrote a compelling and simple defense of human life in a 1983 essay for Human Life Review. That essay was turned into a book with concurring opinions by then-Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, and the late British writer Malcolm Muggeridge.
In his essay, "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation," Reagan succinctly and powerfully made his case for the defense of human life, regardless of status or condition. In his skillful and simple way that once resonated with so many people, Reagan wrote: "...anyone who doesn't feel sure whether we are talking about a second human life should clearly give life the benefit of the doubt. If you don't know whether a body is alive or dead, you would never bury it. I think this consideration itself should be enough for all of us to insist on protecting the unborn."
Then Reagan cut to the heart of this continuing and wrenching debate: "The real question today is not when human life begins, but, (ital) What is the value of human life? (end ital) (italics his)...The real question for (the baby) and for all of us is whether that tiny human life has a God-given right to be protected by the law - the same right we have."
The July 23 issue of Time magazine trumpets its belief that "apes became human" and "made an evolutionary leap." If that's true and we're all the product of evolutionary accident, why stop with embryonic stem cell research? Let's experiment on blacks, the retarded, the handicapped and homosexuals -- all of whom some elites in the past have not judged as fully human. Let's apologize to the descendants of those Nazi doctors who were simply ahead of their time.
In a Time essay in the same issue, Charles Krauthammer (who was trained as a medical doctor) says we should proceed with embryonic stem cell research, but "federal regulation should be strict and unbending." He wants to ban human cloning and thinks Congress should make it a crime. He wants to outlaw the creation of embryos solely for the purpose of harvesting. He would allow stem cell research "only" on discarded fertility clinic embryos or those from "fetal cadavers" (translation: aborted babies who can be killed up to the moment of birth).
What moral, ethical or philosophical reason is there for such an approach? Krauthammer gives none. The next step on this slippery slope will not be governed by an immutable moral code but by opinion polls, shaped by scientists who will want to do more simply because they've discovered they can.
Krauthammer tries to redeem the point he has ceded by claiming that we "owe posterity a moral universe not trampled and corrupted by arrogant, brilliant science." We long ago gave up that universe and have settled in a foreign land. The protective fence that surrounded even agnostics in past centuries was rooted in the principles of the Ten Commandments and the philosophy and instructions of the Beatitudes. But we aborted those principles and now we abort ourselves.
Soon, with no controlling moral authority, we will euthanize the elderly and the handicapped. At each stage, we will be consoled that we are doing good. We will have long forgotten the words of Ronald Reagan, as we have forgotten the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Woe to them who call evil good."