The Pedagogical Significance of the Bush Stem Cell Policy: A Window into Bioethical Regulation in the U.S.
14 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2006
The enormous significance of the Bush stem cell funding policy has been evident since its inception. The announcement of the policy on August 9, 2001 marked the first time a U.S. president had ever taken up a matter of bioethical import as the sole subject of a major national policy address. Indeed, the August 9th speech was the President's first nationally televised policy address of any kind. Since then, the policy has been a constant focus of attention and discussion by political commentators, the print and broadcast media, advocacy organizations, scientists, elected officials, and candidates for all levels of office (including especially the 2004 Democratic nominee for President, Senator John Kerry, who made his opposition to the Bush policy a centerpiece of his domestic campaign, mentioning it explicitly in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention). The biotechnology industry has taken a keen interest in stem cell research as a possible avenue for medical therapies; one study suggests that as of 2002 private sector companies had spent an aggregate of $208 million on research and development of stem cell technologies. In response to the policy, there has been a flurry of state legislation proposed and enacted, with some states affirming and others condemning the Administration's approach. Finally, the great prominence of the national and international debate on human cloning has drawn further attention to the issue of embryonic stem cell research (and by extension, the Bush policy), given that one application of somatic cell nuclear transfer is the production of cloned human embryos from which stem cells may be derived (so-called Therapeutic Cloning).
To date, the significance of the Bush stem cell policy has been framed and publicly debated in terms of its practical import: Does it impede the scientific and medical progress that the research seems to promise? Is it adequately protective and respectful of embryonic human life? Aside from its great practical significance, however, the Bush policy is arguably one of the most important recent legal developments for the field of bioethics for an additional reason: its deep pedagogical significance. The Bush policy provides an unparalleled window into the nature and substance of bioethical regulation within the unique framework of the American system of government. And it does so in dramatic fashion, against the backdrop of some of the most enduring and vexing questions in all of bioethics: What is owed to developing human life, and how does this obligation stand in relation to the aim of science to advance knowledge with the ultimate aspiration of alleviating human suffering? Reflecting on the nature and scope of the policy yields insights into a number of crucial matters that are central to the problem of whether and how to govern science and medicine according to bioethical principles. This Essay will briefly explore five areas in which the Bush policy is thus instructive: (1) the conceptual understanding of regulation as a legal category; (2) the principles of federalism; (3) the significance of federal funding; (4) the nature of governance according to a particular type of moral principle (e.g., bright line); and (5) the influence of political prudence and respect for pluralism.
Keywords: stem cell, zygote, embryo, blastocyst, morula, fetus, cloning, somatic cell nuclear transfer, personhood, regulation, federal funding, federalism, pluralism, pluripotent, totipotent, multipotent, research, Bush, Kerry, bioethics, medical ethics, biotechnology, medicine, science, biology
JEL Classification: K1, K10, K19, K3, K30, K32, K39, K4, K40, K49
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