The Wrong Legacy

The late, revered President Ronald Reagan is being enlisted in an all-out campaign to lift President Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research. Even before President Reagan died on June 5, fifty-eight U.S. senators signed a letter asking President Bush to remove those restrictions. Now many of those senators, from Democrat Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) to Republican Orrin Hatch (Utah), are pointing to Reagan's long illness and death as the perfect justification for why such research is needed. But embryonic stem-cell research requires creating a human embryo and killing it. As President Bush recognizes, this raises profound moral objections. And what the embryonic research advocates are forgetting is that President Reagan strongly agreed with President Bush. New York Times columnist William Safire, while invoking Reagan's name to promote the cause of embryonic stem-cell research, writes that Reagan's views on this will never be known. Well, that's not so. A former White House assistant has given me a copy of a draft executive order that Reagan was working on shortly before he left office. The order would have "continue[d] and broaden[ed] the moratorium on NIH grants for certain types of fetal experimentation," a moratorium put into effect in 1988 by an assistant secretary in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Reagan took a clear stand against research that would harm or destroy "any living child in utero," in all stages of development in which scientists were then able to experiment on them. And as Reagan's national security adviser and close personal friend William Clark pointed out in the New York Times, "After the charter expired for the Departments of Health, Education and Welfare's ethical advisory board -- which in the 1970s supported destructive research on human embryos -- he [that is, Reagan] began a de facto ban on federal financing of embryo research that he held to throughout his presidency." Clark knew his friend's mind on this subject very well. "In his famous 'Evil Empire' speech of March 1983 -- which most recall as solely an indictment of the Soviet Union -- Ronald Reagan spoke strongly against the denigration of innocent human life," writes Clark. "And [Reagan] favored bills in Congress that would have given every human being -- at all stages of development -- protection as a person under the 14th Amendment." Reagan also favored a Human Life Amendment which defines life as beginning at conception. In addition, Clark points out, Reagan "would have asked the marketplace question: If human embryonic research is so clearly promising as the researchers assert, why aren't private investors putting [their] money into it, as they are in adult stem-cell research?" The answer is obvious: Embryonic research is not only far less ethical than adult stem-cell research, but it's also far less promising. Score another one for the Gipper. It's certainly understandable that Nancy Reagan, after the terrible ordeal she's been through, might look with favor on any possibility of defeating Alzheimer's. It's even understandable that others, misled by extravagant promises and blind to what's really going on, are grasping at the same straw. But they ought to argue their case on its merits -- what few merits it has -- and not enlist in their cause the name of Ronald Reagan, who stood foursquare against the exploitation and destruction of human life in any stage. That is one legacy he would have never wanted to leave. For further reading and information: William Clark, "For Reagan, All Life Was Sacred," New York Times, 11 June 2004. Free registration required. Read President Reagan's March 1983 "Evil Empire" speech. Rick Weiss, "Stem Cells An Unlikely Therapy for Alzheimer's," Washington Post, 10 June 2003, A03. Shankar Vedantam, "Reagans' Experience Alters Outlook for Alzheimer's Patients," Washington Post, 14 June 2004, A01. Pippa Wysong, "Bone marrow cells may heal brain: Alzheimer's, Parkinson's patients could become their own donors," Medical Post, 25 May 2004. Sue Pleming, "Laura Bush Says Cannot Support Stem Cell Research," Reuters, 9 June 2004. James Gordon Meek, "Gloves off in Reagan stem war," New York Daily News, 14 June 2004. Wesley J. Smith, "Cell Wars," National Review Online, 8 June 2004. Associated Press, "Senators press for stem-cell research," Washington Times, 8 June 2004. Christopher Smith, "Hatch urges Bush to back stem cell research," Salt Lake Tribune, 8 June 2004. Ronald Reagan, "Abortion and the Conscience of a Nation," Human Life Review, originally published in 1983, reprinted in 1984. William Safire, "Reagan's Next Victory," New York Times, 7 June 2004 (reprinted by the Houston Chronicle). Eric Cohen, "Stem Cells and the Senate," National Review, 25 May 2004. (Dozens of U.S. Senators have signed a letter to President Bush, demanding that he change the policy in place since 2001 regulating the federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. Ethics and Public Policy Center scholar and New Atlantis editor Eric Cohen explains how the advocates of such research have been distorting the facts and why the key questions are fundamentally ethical.) The Editors of The New Atlantis, "Do Embryos Vote?," The New Atlantis, Number 4, Winter 2004, 98-101. Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Reaganite by Association? His Family Won't Allow It," New York Times, 15 June 2004. Free registration required. BreakPoint Commentary No. 040608, "The Question of Good and Evil: The Legacy of Ronald Reagan." Leslie Carbone, "Mourning in America," BreakPoint Online, 11 June 2004. Lisa Barrett Mann, "An Embryonic Approach," Washington Post, 6 April 2004, HE01. Dr. David A. Prentice, Stem Cells and Cloning (Benjamin-Cummings, 2002). An introduction to this controversial research. Call 1-877-322-5527 to order.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary