The President’s Stem-Cell Dollars and the Judge’s Rebuke
Advancing science does not justify the destruction of human life.


Announcing his policy shift in March 2009, President Obama said: “Promoting science isn’t just about providing resources — it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient — especially when it’s inconvenient.”

But it is the president who fails to be open to the inconvenient truth about the human embryo, namely, that from the single-cell stage of development onward, the human embryo is a distinct, determinate, self-directing, integrated human organism — a living member of the human species who, if given a suitable environment, will move along the seamless trajectory of biological development toward maturity. At the so-called “blastocyst stage,” when the embryo might be destroyed to derive embryonic stem cells, he or she is already a living individuated organism. The very same organism — the very same human being — who, unless deprived of the conditions of survival, will soon be crawling, then walking, and then a few years later asking mom and dad for the car keys.

Is our humanity alone enough to merit protection and regard, or are we required to prove we have some other set of qualities or capacities to qualify for respect and protection? Should we be allowed intentionally to destroy living human beings for our speculative benefit because they are going to “die anyway”? Shall we treat human beings in the embryonic stage as less than fully human because the embryonic human would be more useful to us dead than alive?

With our fellow Neuhaus Colloquium signatories, we believe these questions have clear answers. Every human being deserves to be treated with the same basic level of concern and regard that we owe to all members of the human family. If basic human equality means anything at all, it must mean that individuals deserve equal moral regard and legal protection in virtue of who they are, not because of their worth as judged by others according to their own needs and desires.

Abandoning this basic principle of justice, the Obama administration has begun to incentivize — with funds provided by the American people and in their name — the exploitation and destruction of human life for scientific research. Judge Lamberth is to be commended for faithfully applying the existing law that expresses the principled conviction that human life is not to be destroyed with taxpayer dollars. President Obama now has a chance to reconsider his misguided policy and replace it with one that advances science while respecting the equal dignity of every human life.

— Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. Yuval Levin is editor of National Affairs and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Matthew J. Franck is director of the Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton.