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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

 
Today's Tallahassee Democrat includes an op-ed column by Bernard Siegel of the Genetics Policy Institute. Headlined "Charlie Crist's stem-cell dilemma," the column rightly takes the Governor to task for his colorless stand on embryonic stem-cell research:
When President Bush dashed patients' hopes last July by vetoing the bill to lift funding restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research, then-gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist signaled his support for the science, saying he disagreed with the veto. But he was silent as to whether he supported Florida's funding embryonic stem-cell research.

Gov. Crist last month announced his support for a modest proposal that called for $20 million in funding for adult, amniotic-fluid cell and embryonic stem-cell research limited to the stem-cell lines approved by President Bush back in 2001.

Modest indeed, as such a measure simply duplicates federal policy and fails to meet the urgent unmet need - the funding of new embryonic cell lines.
Crist (whose approval rating is currently quite high, even among moderates) here embodies the dilemma faced by many elected officials: In order to win a general election -- and barring any extraordinary circumstances, as 9/11 afforded the current occupant of the White House -- politicians must seem firmly in the center of almost any controversial issue. During the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, Crist apparently positioned himself to the left of the Republican party line on the issue. See, for example, this article from the Lakeland Ledger, dated August 2006:
Crist -- whose father, a retired doctor, now suffers from a progressive eye disease -- hopes that research will soon be able to go forward without destroying embryos. Meanwhile, the state attorney general expresses lukewarm support for spending money on it with current technology.

"I'm not opposed to it," Crist said in a recent interview. "It's important that we continue to advance technologically and medically to help people."
At the time, then-Attorney General Crist was engaged in what turned out to be a not-very-close primary campaign for the GOP nomination. If you were a moderate of either party, you could project into the above passage a tentative step into the 21st century by a politician not afraid to confront the conventional wisdom of what a Republican "should" believe. If you were a conservative, on the other hand, you might see in those two paragraphs a coded message of reassurance. There was the "lukewarm," and there was the "not opposed to it" -- at least one full step short of "support it."

As Siegel's column points out, now that he's in the Governor's Mansion Crist can't have it both ways. He can support the party line (which might be summarized as "First, do as little as possible" (not exactly the Hippocratic principle you want your doctor to embrace), or he can say, in effect, Look, this is ridiculous: Let's do everything in our power to help those who are already desperately ill and those who may become desperately ill in the future.

But fence-sitting creates merely the illusion of evenhandedness, at the expense of suffering severe pain in the part of a guy's body where he wants least to suffer any pain at all (let alone the severe kind).

C'mon, Charlie. Hop off the fence onto the side of common sense and decency, away from ideology. It'll help you in the long run (as well as your dad, and the dads and moms and sisters and brothers of countless Floridians in the future).

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