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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.

President George W. Bush
SLATE, By William Saletan, Jan. 24, 2008 --
Admiring portrayals of George W. Bush always expose, inadvertently, what's wrong with him. "Steady leadership," the theme of his 2004 re-election ads, was a case in point. Bush has always been too certain to admit error, too steady to turn the wheel when the road bent, and too preoccupied with principle to understand that principle wasn't enough. That was his downfall in Iraq. It's also why he pushed through his 2001 tax cuts even after the circumstances that originally justified them vanished.

Now the former White House aide who coordinated the formulation of Bush's stem-cell policy has published an account of how the president reached his decision. The reporting is new, but the story is familiar. Once again, the case for Bush is the case against him.

The account, published in Commentary, comes from Jay Lefkowitz, who served as a senior domestic-policy adviser to Bush until 2003. Lefkowitz calls Bush's 2001 deliberations "a model of how to deal with the complicated scientific and ethical dilemmas that will continue to confront political leaders in the age of biotechnology." He describes Bush swatting away a National Right to Life polling memo. The president "came to a moderate, balanced decision that drew a prudent and principled line," based not on polls but on "lengthy study and consultation with people of widely divergent viewpoints," Lefkowitz writes. That's Bush: serious, principled, indifferent to pressure.


Bush decided to fund research on stem-cell lines made from embryos that were destroyed before Aug. 9, 2001—the day he announced his policy—but not afterward. He pegged this compromise to factual calculations. He claimed there were "more than 60 genetically diverse stem cell lines," enough "to explore the promise and potential of stem cell research." Three days after his speech, in a New York Times op-ed, he wrote, "According to the National Institutes of Health, these lines are genetically diverse and sufficient in number for the research ahead."


The facts began to change right away. New information and analysis challenged Bush's assumptions about the existing cell lines' numerical sufficiency, genetic diversity, and stability. People who worked with Bush argue that these problems never became consequential enough to change the policy. But Bush's comments show no sign that he was willing even to consider this possibility. A day after his op-ed ran, Bush cut off reporters' questions about the policy. "I spent a lot of time on the subject," he reminded them. "I laid out the policy I think is right for America. And I'm not going to change my mind. I'm the kind of person that when I make up my mind, I'm not going to change it."


And, in that instance, Bush spoke the truth. He hasn't changed his mind, even though last March, his own NIH Director, Elias Zerhouni, "confirmed that Bush's initial rationale no longer matched the facts." According to a spokeswoman, Bush "weighed this issue very carefully back in 2001, and has thought about it since. And he believes that that clear moral line that he established back in August of 2001 is a good place for the country to be."

I encourage you to read the complete article.

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