Worthy Christian News » Stem Cell Research » Decision on stem-cell research divides abortion opponents
By Bob Allen
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- President Bush's decision on stem-cell research is dividing the pro-life religious community. According to a New York Times article published Aug. 12, the split doesn't fall along religious or theological lines, pitting, for example, Catholics against Protestants. Instead, it appears to be tactical: pragmatist versus purist.
Bush's long-awaited decision to allow federal funding for research with existing stem-cell lines but not to spend money for further sacrificing of human embryos drew immediate praise from some leaders on the Religious Right.
The National Right to Life Committee applauded Bush's Aug. 9 speech announcing his long-awaited decision on the issue. So did Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, and Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition.
On the other side, representatives of 11 anti-abortion groups called a news conference criticizing both the president's decision and abortion opponents who praised it.
"I find their positions difficult to square with the fundamental principle that human life is precious and ought to be preserved," said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council.
Connor said some support might be driven more by loyalty to Bush than by principle.
"If a President Al Gore had come out with this position, I am left to wonder whether or not their reaction would have been entirely different," Connor said.
Others, like the Southern Baptist Convention's Albert Mohler and Richard Land, said they have concerns about Bush's decision but took heart in the president's tacit acknowledgment that fertilized embryos are human life.
Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement embryonic stem cells are "fundamentally different" from body parts such as a kidney or heart that are donated for medical research.
"These stem cells are the essential, foundational building blocks of an entire human being whose life was lost before his or her stem cells were harvested," said Land, who is reportedly being considered by Bush for appointment to a government panel monitoring religious persecution.
Land, however, was among many religious conservatives who were relieved that Bush didn't compromise more with pressure from the left. While saying he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision, Land said it was probably "the most pro-life decision" that any president would have made under similar circumstances in the last 50 years.
A consultant for Land's agency, meanwhile, said some Americans might not take advantage of treatments developed through methods he described as "a form of biotechnological cannibalism."
"These cells have been harvested by killing human embryos," said Ben Mitchell, professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. "They are morally tainted and any benefits from research on those cells will be ill-gotten gain."
"Our tax dollars should not be used to fund research we find morally reprehensible. Yet, President Bush's decision makes us pay for tainted research," said Mitchell, who works as a consultant on biomedical and life issues for the ERLC. "It's like forcing us to eat our own offspring and charging us for the meal."
According to an ABC News/Washington Post survey conducted prior to Bush's announcement, support for stem-cell research varies by religious denomination.
The poll, conducted in late July, said 63 percent of the American public believes the research is an important way to find cures for many diseases, while 33 percent said it's wrong to use any human embryo for research purposes.
Evangelical Protestants, however, divided narrowly on the same question, with 46 percent supporting the research, 48 percent opposing and 6 percent with no opinion.
Other Protestants supported stem-cell research 74 percent to 22 percent. Among Catholics, it was supported by 63 percent and opposed by 34 percent. Among those with no religious preference, 80 percent approved of the research and 16 percent were opposed.
Associated Baptist Press. Used with Permission.