GWB: The Flaws Of A Faith Based Presidency genre: Hip-Gnosis & Little Red Ribbon-Hood

Dining At The Blind Faith Cafe

I accept the fact that the President is opposed to embryonic stem cell research on the basis of moral and ethical considerations. At the same time, I'm not sure his role as president is to apply his own particular religious beliefs when considering whether to fund of efforts intended to provide hope to those in need of medical breakthroughs.

On Wednesday, the president is expected to veto the most recent bill that would expand funding for embryonic stem cell research...funding that is favored by a wide majority of voters.
The New York Times is reporting that the President intends to announce his own initiative to promote research into regenerative medicine...a move that will likely be viewed as an effort to offset the criticism that will be leveled at the president.

In interviews on Tuesday, two senior administration officials said Mr. Bush would direct his health and human services secretary to promote research into producing cells with properties akin to those of human embryonic stem cells, without destroying embryos in the process. Mr. Bush has said embryo destruction is a moral line that he will not cross.

The officials said Mr. Bush wanted the National Institutes of Health to capitalize on recent scientific advances, including a study published this month involving skin cells in mice, that had the potential to sidestep the ethical controversies surrounding embryonic stem cell experiments. The White House has been consulting with scientists in recent weeks on the plan, they said.

But the effort appears largely symbolic — there is no money attached — and some scientists were instantly skeptical. Two leading stem cell researchers, interviewed Tuesday evening, said the recent work was no substitute for embryonic stem cell research. One, Douglas A. Melton of Harvard University, said he had become aware recently that the White House was trying to reach out to some of his colleagues who are pursuing the skin cell research, which has not been replicated in humans.

“It should be pursued just as actively as we pursue human embryonic stem cell research," Dr. Melton said of the recent studies. “I’m not trying to say there’s nothing to this," he continued, “but it doesn’t need any special attention from the White House. All we’ve ever asked is let human embryonic stem cell research vie for public funding like all other research."

The officials said the White House was particularly encouraged by several new avenues of research, including studies involving stem cells obtained from amniotic fluid, and efforts to extract stem cells from embryos that had been declared “clinically dead."

“It is not an alternative for embryonic stem cell research, because some of these alternative procedures still have ethical issues associated with them," Dr. Gearhart said, adding, “Who is the god that says the embryo is dead?"

Let me be the first to answer Dr. Gearhart's question...George W. Bush...of course. You see, that is the very problem when politicians believe it is their mandate to apply religious doctrine...just who draws the lines and where are those lines to be drawn? If we can't trust the scientific community to act with appropriate caution...caution that weighs the potential to improve the health of millions against the costs to implement those improvements, should we be content to simply follow the belief system of the then sitting president?

What if a president decides to only fund research conducted by faith based scientists? This president has already attached a requirement to its African AIDS initiative that requires that a third of all prevention spending must promote abstinence only...a method of prevention that has already been proven to be inferior to sex education and the distribution of condoms.

Perhaps my example is extreme, but is it hard to imagine that the NIH or the CDC, under the direction of a president and his appointees, might attach similar ethical considerations when funding other scientific initiatives? What if a president determined that bad behavior ought not receive research funding and cut spending on lung cancer caused by smoking or liver disease caused by excessive drinking or diabetes caused by obesity? Hey, it’s not that big of a stretch; they've already made a statement of moral judgment with regards to HIV in Africa.

Don't get me wrong, I applaud the President's initiative as I think we ought to spend more on scientific research as opposed to billions on failed efforts to export democracy. However, the preceding statement only serves to further illuminate my concern that elected officials should not apply their own moral judgments.

The notion that bringing democracy to Iraq would solve their longstanding sectarian conflicts and our concerns about terrorism was not only naive; it sought to replace one belief system with another...and in doing so, the president, in effect characterized one set of religious beliefs as evil.

I don't doubt that George Bush is a man of faith. However, the myopic view created by his adherence to his particular brand of faith has made him a president for some of the people...a world leader that prefers to dictate rather than negotiate...and a man who is ultimately ill-suited for the complexities that accompany the constitutionally defined role of president.

In the end, we're left to hope that those in need of medical breakthroughs and the rest of the world can hold it together long enough for us to elect a replacement that is worthy and wise.

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Daniel DiRito | June 20, 2007 | 10:49 AM
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