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Associated Press/Photo by Gerald Herbert

Ignored implications

Opinion | By signing an executive order on embryonic stem cell research, President Obama opened a door that should be forever slammed shut

President Obama recently made the wrong move by incurring additional federal debt for research on human embryos and-contrary to what many have said in the media-opening the door to human cloning. He has drawn a sharp distinction between the political parties, and announced that he will cross the Rubicon on an issue with frightening implications for America's future.

Stem cells are generated in various ways. For a number of years, many scientists were particularly interested in cells derived from fertilized human embryos that are only a few days old. The cells generated by these embryos-called undifferentiated pluripotent stem cells-are thought by some to be capable of all sorts of medical treatments.

The moral problem with obtaining them is this: It destroys the young human embryo in the process.

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From the outset, it's important to recognize the facts, because both politicians and many in the media have grossly distorted this issue.

First, this research may be utterly unnecessary. Americans don't need to navigate the ethical dilemmas of embryonic stem cell research if the results gained from this research could be safely derived from other sources. Although many in the media chose to ignore it, scientists have discovered a method whereby adult skin cells can be modified in a way that appears to give them all the properties of embryonic stem cells. Those on the political left ignored this breakthrough, although it received notice in non-conservative journals such as Science, Cell, Wired, and National Geographic.

Second, former President Bush was the first president to provide federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. But he provided that funding only to the cell lines that currently existed, from embryos that had already been destroyed. Bush explained that the life-or-death decision was already off the table for those cell lines, providing funding for research on them but refusing to fund future destruction of human embryos.

This policy, however, did nothing to restrict private research on human embryos. Under current law, stem cell research went on for years at private research institutions, funded by private dollars. Even if embryonic stem cells were necessary for certain research, no supposed medical advances were missed because this private-sector research continued full-throttle.

From a moral perspective, if the law must err, it should err on the side of protecting life. In one of flimsiest dodges of the election season, Barack Obama, during a televised forum, ducked a question from the Rev. Rick Warren on abortion by saying that the question of when human life begins is above his pay grade. When you're president of the United States, nothing is above your pay grade if it's a topic where the president makes policy decisions. If President Obama was convinced that destroying fertilized, growing, days-old embryos was not ending human lives, then that would be something to debate. But when he readily says he doesn't know when life begins-leaving open the possibility these brand-new creatures are human beings-then he should err on the side of caution by not funding their annihilation.

This becomes all the more apparent with the recent skin-cell breakthrough. If skin cells can harmlessly be used to deliver all the same research as stem cells, then it shocks the conscience that anyone would insist on continuing to destroy human embryos. At the very least, if there is any doubt as to whether these skin cells offer the same promise, then President Obama should wait until the science on the issue is clear.

But it gets worse. When human cloning looked like a near-term possibility in the 1990s, it was President Bill Clinton who first put into law a prohibition against it. President George W. Bush then renewed this ban. Both presidents-of different parties-drew a clear line in the sand that cloning human beings was a moral and ethical line we would never cross as a nation.

Then President Obama arrived. In the same speech where he authorized the new stem cell funding, he announced he would also not allow human cloning for purposes of reproduction. He clearly left the door open to allow cloning for medical research purposes. In a way that was considered unthinkable during every American administration in the past, President Obama refuses to rule out allowing scientists to actually grow human beings in a laboratory, to harvest their body parts, and conduct research for the benefit of other human beings.

And most in the media ignored this disturbing shift in American policy.

No human being should ever be killed to benefit another human being. Such a policy would put America on a path that would lead to terrifying results. The door to human cloning should not only be shut, it should be slammed shut and locked forever.

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