Don't Veto, Mr. President

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

PRESIDENT BUSH is on the verge of losing his similarity to Thomas Jefferson. The third president and the 43rd have had in common the record of being two-term chief executives who did not cast a single veto -- at least until now. But Mr. Bush is poised to veto a measure, passed 63 to 37 by the Senate yesterday, to allow federally funded stem cell research using embryos left over from in vitro fertilization. We don't think much of Mr. Bush's veto-free streak (we take no position on Jefferson's), but this is the wrong subject on which to end it.

Mr. Bush is motivated, according to his spokesman, by his conviction that using leftover embryos, even those slated for destruction in any event, is tantamount to killing. White House press secretary Tony Snow explained yesterday, "The president believes strongly that for the purpose of research it's inappropriate for the federal government to finance something that many people consider murder; he's one of them." That the embryos would be discarded anyway "is a tragedy," Mr. Snow added, "but the president is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something that is living and making it dead for the purpose of research."

We understand that people can in good faith disagree on this question. But we don't understand the logic of Mr. Bush's position. If using discarded embryos to extract stem cells is murder, how can he permit it to proceed with private funding? If this is murder, isn't it also immoral to allow federal research on existing lines of embryonic stem cells, as the current administration policy permits, though they are the fruit of a homicidal act?

For years, society has allowed excess embryos to be deliberately created, and unused embryos to be discarded, by fertility clinics. The question before Mr. Bush is whether some of those days-old clusters of cells, rather than being discarded, could be used for research that has the potential to save untold numbers of lives and improve the quality of untold more. He offered in his first term what seemed like a reasonable compromise, but in practice his compromise has not worked. We hope he will consider compromise again.

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