Reagan and stem cell research

It is unfortunate that the death of one of the most prominent American presidents is being used to advance an issue so distant from the core beliefs he championed as president.

Ronald Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for 10 years. After he announced to the country in 1994 that he had the sickness, he disappeared from the public eye until his death June 5.

His wife Nancy, a month before his death, challenged President George W. Bush’s 2001 decision to limit federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research. She contended that a full-fledged research effort could help find a cure to Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

Soon thereafter, 58 senators, including 14 Republicans, signed a June 8 letter calling on President Bush to relax his position on embryonic stem cell research. Some senators, including the author, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, cited President Reagan’s sickness and Nancy Reagan’s advocacy as catalysts for their request to eliminate the current restrictions.

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate and a signatory of the senate letter, John F. Kerry, explicitly endorsed Nancy Reagan’s position in a June 12 radio address.

However, President Reagan’s own views on human life contradicted the arguments that now are being advanced, invoking his name and his illness to promote the destruction of human life. During his presidency, Reagan supported the concept that life begins at conception and favored legislation that would have granted constitutional rights to unborn human beings.

This push to eliminate restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research comes three years after President Bush allowed federal funds to be used in research involving embryonic stem cell lines already in existence.

That decision attempted to strike a balance between those pushing for unrestricted funding and those opposed to the destruction of human life for experimentation. But, as it happens many times in politics, half measures do not resolve problems, just delay them. The compromise decision to allow the use of stem cells from embryos that, regrettably, had already been destroyed opened a crack that now is being exploited to open the flood gates of federal money.

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when Bush approved the measure, issued a statement asking the president to “return to a principled stand against treating some human lives as nothing more than objects to be manipulated and destroyed for research purposes.”

As attacks on the weakest forms of human life reenergize, the president should heed that call to return to a principled stand and not bargain with human life. Embryonic stem cell research is a disgrace that tramples on human existence at its most fundamental level.

Those who are truly interested in paying tribute to President Reagan’s legacy should call for a total ban on embryonic stem cell research. Nothing less will do him justice.