Stem Cells

STEM CELLS….Matt Yglesias comments on President Bush’s apparent disconnect when it comes to embryonic stem cell research: namely that he only seems to care about banning federally funded stem cell research.

If the cells are sacred human life, then surely it’s not okay to kill them in a privately financed manner. The nonsensical nature of Bush’s position on this issue is old news, but continues, in my view, to be under-remarked upon in mainstream coverage of the issue. Years ago, he hit upon a goofy split-the-difference compromise and ever since then he’s been wandering the country insisting that he’s taking a bold stand of principle.

Well, OK. But two things.

First, when it comes to federal funding all Bush has to do is veto a spending bill, and he can make this stick as long as he has the support of one-third of one house of Congress. Conversely, banning all embryonic stem cell research would take the affirmative passage of a bill, which requires the support of half the members of both houses of Congress. So Bush can do the former but not the latter simply due to the level of congressional support he can muster.

Second, would a ban on private research be constitutional anyway? Normally I’d be inclined to say that Congress can ban almost anything it wants using its commerce clause powers, but the Supreme Court has been slowly eroding that authority over the past couple of decades. So, ironically, a research ban might actually be found unconstitutional thanks to the increased business conservatism of the Supreme Court in recent years. It’s yet another example where social conservatives have gotten the short end of the stick because the Republican Party doesn’t really care about them. What they really care about is supporting corporate interests, and the justices they’ve nominated to the Supreme Court are a lot more interested in that than they are in stem cells. More evidence on that score here.

UPDATE: Steve Benen has some good pushback on this. It’s one thing to do as much as you can while reluctantly accepting that you don’t have the votes for an outright ban. It’s quite another thing to actively tout the fact that private funding is still available and imply that this is just the way it should be. If embryonic stem cell research represents destruction of human life, why is private funding so admirable?